While David Cameron’s EU speech today made all the front pages, it is far from fresh news. Two weeks ago, James Forsyth revealed to Spectator readers what the Prime Minister would say in his speech. But as far back as last May, we revealed that a referendum on EU membership was almost certain:
A referendum on Europe is the obvious answer. It is one the leadership seems set to embrace. The popularity of Cameron’s EU veto made his circle realise how much of a political asset Euroscepticism could be, if used in the right way. There is also concern in No. 10 that if the Tories don’t offer the public a vote, Labour will.
One source intimately involved in Tory electoral strategy told me recently that a referendum in the next manifesto was ‘basically a certainty’. The only debate now was about what ‘sequencing’ the manifesto should propose: renegotiate Britain’s membership of the European Union and then hold a referendum on the result, or hold a referendum asking for permission to go to Brussels and renegotiate.
My understanding is that, at the moment, the favoured option is to propose renegotiation, followed by a referendum on the new arrangements within 18 months. During the campaign, the Tories would argue for staying in if new terms could be agreed but leaving if the rest of Europe refused to play ball.