No in-out option as Tories prepare for Cameron’s crucial speech on EU

Nigel Farage, left, and William Hague exchange views on Europe during BBC's Marr show. Picture: Getty
Nigel Farage, left, and William Hague exchange views on Europe during BBC's Marr show. Picture: Getty
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DAVID Cameron’s long-awaited speech on the UK’s place in the European Union will happen this week and spell details of how powers could be repatriated, Foreign Secretary William Hague confirmed yesterday.

The Prime Minister’s EU speech, which has been in the making for at least six months, was set to be given on Friday in Amsterdam but was delayed because of the hostage crisis in Algeria.

Insiders have said that Mr Cameron will offer “enough red meat” to his Eurosceptic backbenchers and party members, many of whom want an in-out referendum on the issue.

However, in a broadcast interview, Mr Hague made it clear that there would be no out option, and that the government’s view was that Britain should remain in the EU but have the relationship redefined because of the changes brought about by the euro crisis.

He also made it clear there would be a referendum, but this is expected to be on a new package of powers coming back rather than an option of leaving the EU altogether.

The Foreign Secretary told the BBC Marr show that he wanted the UK’s EU membership to be a success, but “fresh consent” would be needed as the institution changed.

Mr Hague said the speech would take place at some point this week.

Details of where and when the Prime Minister would be speaking would be announced today, he added.

“It will happen in the coming week. We will make an announcement about exactly when and where tomorrow.”

It is understood that after months of delay and some embarrassing Tory backbench rebellions on Europe, including a defeat over the EU budget negotiations last year, Mr Cameron does not want his speech to be delayed any further in a bid to kill off the EU question for the rest of this parliament.

He hopes by laying out the party’s 2015 general election position he can prevent his party splitting again on an issue he had hoped he had killed off when he first became leader and told the party it need to “stop obsessing about Europe”.

However, Labour leader Ed Miliband claimed last week that Mr Cameron is now “a prisoner of his own party” on the issue and the Prime Minister was unable to deny claims that he had given permission for Tory cabinet members to campaign on different sides of the argument, with figures like education secretary Michael Gove understood to prefer leaving the EU altogether.

Mr Miliband warned that the UK is “drifting towards an EU exit” because of internal Tory argument on the issue.

However, many Tory MPs are worried about the party losing votes on Europe to UKIP, whose leader Nigel Farage said that it is now clear that the Conservative position is to stay in the EU and not leave as his party would prefer.

Also speaking on the Marr programme, Mr Farage said: “It is clear that the Conservative Party will run a five-year campaign for the UK to stay in the EU.”

Asked if his party could consider doing a deal with the Tories if it held the balance of power after the next election in a hung parliament, Mr Farage insisted that it was impossible while Mr Cameron is leader.

He said: “Cameron just throws abuse at us and calls us nutters and closet racists, so I don’t think there’s any prospect of us doing a deal with the Conservative Party with Mr Cameron in charge.

“It’s very interesting, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg, they don’t agree with what UKIP stands for but they recognise that we have a sensible point of view that is held by a large number of people in this country.

“The first thing to say is that 10 years ago you couldn’t even discuss the question of leaving the EU in polite society, it was considered completely beyond the pale to even talk about.

“So the very fact that the Prime Minister is making a speech on this issue is actually a tribute to the thousands of people that have worked and helped get UKIP established as a political party.”