BIRMINGHAM, United Kingdom – George Osborne used a series of media interviews at the Conservative conference to pledge a free vote in parliament on the EU referendum. This will allow backbench MPs to make their own decision on whether to support an in/out vote.
The Chancellor refused to be drawn on whether he would support withdrawal from the EU if negotiations to bring back powers to the UK failed. The Conservatives pledged to attempt to refine their relationship with the EU, and offer a referendum on whether to accept the new relationship or leave.
Their pledge has been widely derided because other EU heads of government have said they will never cede powers back. In February this year the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel spoke at the British parliament and said: “I have been told many times during the last few days that there are very special expectations of my speech here today.”
“Supposedly, or so I have heard, some expect my speech to pave the way for a fundamental reform of the European architecture that will satisfy all kinds of alleged or actual British wishes. I am afraid they are in for a disappointment.”
Despite the problems with the negotiation plan Osborne pledged to press on: “People will know what the Conservative policy is but ultimately it will be a free vote for backbench Tory MPs, but people should be in no doubt that a Conservative government will put forward its proposals, the reform we will have achieved, the renegotiation we will achieve, the successful outcome of that renegotiation.
He added: “If we did not think it was in Britain’s interest to be in the EU we would not argue for it. Anyone who doubts that David Cameron will deliver should look at the Scottish referendum. He made a promise to hold a Scottish referendum; there were plenty of people that said don’t do that.
“People can trust our prime minister to deliver on a referendum but we need to be in office to do that, and that will be one of the choices at the next election. The way to resolve this issue is to bring it to a head, put it to the people, and then our country can move on. If people want to leave they will have that choice in that referendum.”
The referendum pledge only came after a major surge in UKIP support began threatening tory heartlands in places like Essex.