By the time most Londoners were arriving at their desks last Wednesday morning, David Cameron was already delivering his long awaited speech on Europe, in which he outlined his plan to hold a referendum on UK membership of the EU (should the Conservative party win a majority at the next election). Both Wednesday’s and Thursday’s front pages made for very good reading for the Prime Minister.
The responses from commentators and parliamentarians has also been very positive. Toby Young, writing in his Telegraph blog, said that this was the best outcome eurosceptics like him could have hoped for and it provides eurosceptics with “a good reason to vote Conservative at the next election.”
Over at ConservativeHome Tim Montgomerie outlined four reasons why the In/Out pledge could be good news for conservatives. One: it demonstrates David Cameron’s leadership qualities. Two: it should win support from Britain’s centre right newspapers. Three: it diminishes the threat from UKIP (the party most likely to steal conservative votes at the next election). Four: it allows the Conservative Party to move on from Europe and talk about other issues.
Even Labour supporters, who may not agree with the policy, agreed that the PM played his hand very well. The referendum pledge leaves Labour between a rock and a hard place said George Eaton over at the New Statesman: “If Ed Miliband matches Cameron’s referendum offer, he will look weak. If he doesn’t, he will look undemocratic.”
The always brilliant Dan Hodges asks some serious questions of both Ed Miliband and his party and laments the absence of any serious Labour policy on, well, anything really. On Europe the damage “has already been done”, he concludes.
Today’s Sun provides an insight into why the Labour Party has not joined the Conservative position to support an In/Out referendum. It reports that Ed Miliband has taken the advice of his brother, David, who views a referendum as “too populist”.
International reaction to Cameron’s speech has been mixed. Almost immediately, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius described Britain’s position as “dangerous” and likened it to someone joining a football team and then wanting to play rugby. He went on to say that Britain was pushing for “Europe à la carte.” But the response from Angela Merkel was slightly more favourable, stating that she is “prepared to talk” and wishes to “find a compromise” with Mr Cameron.
While there was no immediate reaction from Washington, the Obama administration has previously questioned David Cameron over his position on Europe. See, for example, the comments made by Philip Gordon, US assistant secretary for European affairs, during a visit to London earlier this month.
Obviously, Cameron’s announcement is a welcome one for those who believe that the British people deserve a say on the UK’s future relationship with the EU. But for the foreseeable future it remains just an announcement, a statement of intent. It may have shifted the debate but it has not changed the game. The biggest obstacle to seeing it realised is still firmly in place: a Conservative majority at the 2015 General Election. And following last night’s vote on the Boundary Review, this is looking increasingly unlikely.