“I’m not in a hurry…. it’s much more important to get this right than to rush it.” That was David Cameron’s message from the World Economic Forum in Davos this week on his renegotiation efforts with the EU. This message was partly a negotiation tactic and partly an attempt to slow down the growing momentum around a February agreement and a summer referendum date. The PM was also trying to address grumblings from Eurosceptics around his own Cabinet table that he will take any deal from his European counterparts in order to get this referendum to go away.
This, he claimed, was not true. He is much more focused on getting the right deal for Britain and will reject proposals that don’t match his expectations. He is in no rush.
But we all know that the one thing David Cameron doesn’t have is time. He has said he won’t fight the next General Election in 2020. He will need to step down well in advance of that to give his successor time to get to grips with the job and credibly fight the campaign as the incumbent. He wants and must be the Prime Minister who oversees and wins this referendum, given he is the one who has pledged it. All of these factors put pressure on the timings for this vote. Late 2016 is of course a possibility, but with autumn a peak time for refugee movements across Europe, Downing Street is reportedly keen to avoid a referendum against this backdrop.
No matter what he might say, David Cameron is most definitely a man in a hurry.