As a bill to hold a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union (EU) was published on Thursday, Prime Minister David Cameron set off on a tour of EU countries to seek major changes in current arrangements that have caused much public resentment here.
Adopting a tough posture, foreign secretary Philip Hammond said, “We have a clear set of requirements, and the prime minister is very clear in dealing with European Union counterparts that if we are not able to deliver on these big areas of concern that the British people have, we will not win the referendum when it comes.”
The bill stipulates the referendum question voters will be asked, “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?”
This is expected to lead to two distinct campaign groups in the build-up to the referendum: ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ campaigns.
Nigel Farage, whose UK Independence Party wants Britain to exit the 28-member group, said, “It is a simple straightforward, unambiguous question. That much is clear.”
“However, that Cameron is opting to give the pro-EU side the positive ‘Yes’ suggests strongly that his negotiations are so much fudge. He has already decided which way he wants the answer to be given, without a single power repatriated.”
Cameron met EU President Jean-Claude Juncker over the weekend, and is now due to meet Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and French President Francois Hollande, followed by Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Several EU leaders have indicated their opposition to making fundamental treaty changes that Britain is seeking.
Britain’s membership of the EU became a major issue in recent years due to the perception that the union was taking ever more powers and funds from member-states. It is also fuelled by the migration in recent years of hundreds of thousands of EU citizens to the UK who have the right of free movement throughout the union.