Cameron is up against a EU referendum deadline. If the PM wants to hold the referendum in June this year he’ll have to announce it by 23 February, otherwise it will slip to September due to the impact of the summer holidays. The key question is whether Cameron can get a EU reform deal at next week’s European Council Summit after a leaked draft of the EU reform deal showed no real progress in gaining concessions from Brussels. It appears Cameron and his negotiators have a way to go.
This evening, Cameron will address the annual St Matthew’s Day banquet in Hamburg, setting out his case for reforming the EU. This will be one of his final opportunities to remind people of the reasons why “we are taking this course of action” according to a No. 10 spokesperson, before meeting EU leaders next Thursday and Friday.
Cameron needs all 27 EU leaders to back the deal done with Donald Tusk, the EU President. But what about back on home soil? What are the benefits to holding a referendum sooner rather than later?
First, despite polling showing different ‘leads’ for Remain and Leave depending on the methods used, there appears to be a level of uncertainty among the electorate. This could play well for the Remain camp – sometimes it’s better the devil you know. The electorate will have less time to be influenced to change their stance and stick to safe ground. Secondly, if it all goes pear shaped for Cameron, an early referendum will allow the Conservative Party time to recover before the next general election. Euro-sceptics in the Party who are inclined to vote UKIP, can be brought back into the fold and with Cameron set to step down, there will be new blood and a new issue to focus on.
So will it be 23 June? Well the deadline for calling it is 23 February. Not long to wait now.