BRUSSELS – Prime Minister David Cameron gave his strongest suggestion yet on Friday that he hopes to hold a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union in 2016, before a self-imposed two-year deadline.
The timing of the referendum, to decide whether Britain stays in the EU, is sensitive. The longer the vote is delayed, the longer there will be uncertainty over the future over the EU and Britain, including in issues such as trade.
Cameron said on Thursday he had secured a pathway to agreement on his renegotiation to win Britain better terms of membership of the EU, something he said he needed to convince increasingly sceptical voters to stay in the 28-member bloc.
At a news conference, he said: “I believe that 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.”
But he also said: “I’ve set the deadline for the referendum for the end of 2017. I’ve always wanted to give myself time to get this right, what matters is the substance.”
Earlier this week, Britain’s Europe Minister David Lidington said it would take about 16 weeks from the time a date for the referendum is announced, to the vote taking place.
A deal at a February summit of EU leaders could therefore pave the way for a vote in June. British media have reported Cameron favours holding it before the summer, in case there is a repeat of this year’s migrant crisis which polls show dented public support for the bloc.
(Reporting by Elizabeth Piper in Brussels, additional reporting by Kylie MacLellan in London; editing by Philip Blenkinsop/Jeremy Gaunt)