by Ray Fleming

It was my understanding that at the end of last week David Cameron ruled out the idea of a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union, saying at a press conference in Brussels that a Yes-No referendum would not be “the right thing to do.” Yet a long article by him in the Sunday Telegraph at the weekend ended: “For me the two words “Europe” and “referendum” can go together.” It is important to know exactly what the prime minister is saying. In his article he clarifies his rejection of a Yes-No referendum by saying “It offers a single choice, whereas what I want -- and what I believe the vast majority of the British people want -- is to make changes to our relationship”. He lists the faults that he finds with the UK-EU relationship in its present form and “the parts of our European engagement we want and those we want to end”. He implies, I think, that having re-negotiated the relationship to his satisfaction he would ask the British people to endorse it in a referendum - a strategy similar to Harold Wilson's in 1975.

Given the problems on the EU that the prime minister has within his party and his coalition his approach is understandable -- but likely to lead to prolonged and messy negotiations lasting far past the next election.

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