Closer integration of eurozone member states would prompt the British government to call a referendum on the UK's relationship with the European Union, David Cameron, the UK's prime minister, has said. Cameron, who has been under pressure from within his own centre-right Conservative party to call such a vote, made the comments on Friday (28 September) during a trip to Brazil.
Cameron said that the British electorate would have to give “fresh consent” to the UK's relationship with the EU because of changes caused by the European Commission's plan for a single eurozone banking supervisor and other efforts to knit the eurozone more tightly together. However, Cameron suggested that any referendum would not be a simple question of whether the UK should or should not be a member of the EU, but something more nuanced.
A vote – but when?
“I don't think it is in Britain's interests to leave the EU, but I do think what it is increasingly becoming the time for is a new settlement between Britain and Europe, and I think that new settlement will require fresh consent,” Cameron said. However, he is unlikely to bow to pressure being exerted by some in his party for a referendum immediately. He said that there will be no plebiscite until after the UK's next parliamentary elections, scheduled for 2015.
Cameron would face loud demands to call a referendum before then if work to change EU treaties was already under way. Under British legislation passed in 2011, all EU treaty changes that result in “a transfer of competence of power from the UK to the EU” activate the UK's ‘referendum lock', meaning that a vote would be obligatory.
José Manuel Barroso, the president of the Commission, has led calls for a revision of the EU treaties to strengthen the EU's institutions and to create “deep and genuine economic union, based on political union” and to establish a true “federation of nation states”. Barroso suggested that the Commission would put forward its treaty-change proposals before the next European Parliament elections in 2014.
Cameron has a delicate balancing act to perform on his party's approach to the EU. On the one hand his anti-EU rhetoric plays to his party's traditionally Eurosceptic support. The UK Independence Party, which favours complete withdrawal from the EU, is picking up support, according to opinion polls, and could gain votes from the Conservatives. On the other hand, Cameron's party is in coalition with the generally pro-EU Liberal Democrats, led by a former MEP, Nick Clegg.
Before he became prime minister in May 2010, Cameron vowed to hold a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. But he later reversed his decision, saying that such a vote would have no effect because the treaty had already become law by the time he took office.