David Cameron has set Britain on course for a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU next summer, saying next year will be the time when the UK achieves a “fundamental change” in its relationship with the EU and finally addresses concerns about its membership.
His comments gave the clearest indication yet that the prime minister is planning to stage the in/out referendum he has promised in 2016. The earliest date is 16 June, or just possibly 9 June.
The later date would be the day of the England v Wales match in the Euro 2016 football championships, likely to be a drawback, but Cameron wants to hold a swift referendum. July is also a possibility.
There are fears in No 10 that the unpredictable migration crisis might have worsened by next autumn.
Speaking at the end of a two-day Brussels summit at which he faced resistance from EU counterparts to his plans for changes to welfare rules for migrants, Cameron insisted that “good progress” had been made towards an agreement in February on reforms to the UK’s membership.
He has promised to hold the public vote before the end of 2017, but a deal at the summit in February would clear the way for the referendum within four months. Cameron is required to spend six weeks passing details of the legislation through parliament before four months are set aside for the campaign.
Speaking at a closing press conference designed to give a sense of momentum, the prime minister said: “We’ve made good progress, we are a step closer to agreement on the significant and far-reaching reforms I have proposed.
“It is going to be tough and there is a lot of hard work to do. But I believe 2016 will be the year we achieve something really vital, fundamentally changing the UK’s relationship with the EU and finally addressing the concerns of the British people about our membership.
“Then it will be for the British people to decide whether we remain or leave. It is a choice we will all need to think hard about.
“I believe if we can get these reforms right – and I believe that we can – I firmly believe that for our economic security and increasingly for our national security, the best future for Britain is in a reformed European Union.”