David Cameron will deliver his long awaited speech on the future of Britain’s relationship with the European Union in the Netherlands on Friday, Downing Street confirmed on Monday.
The prime minister had initially been thought to have pencilled in Tuesday the 22nd to set out his desire for a “fresh settlement” between Westminster and Brussels that would see the UK take back some powers.
The prime minister’s spokesperson refused to be drawn on why Friday had been chosen, however it has been reported that Angela Merkel complained that 22 January also marked the 50th anniversary of Franco-German friendship.
No. 10 said the Netherlands had been chosen as the site for the speech as the Dutch were a founding member of the EU with a similar perspective to the British.
“The prime minister wants to set out his views on the future of the EU, how it needs to develop and how Britain’s relationship with it needs to develop,” the spokesperson said.
“I think giving the speech in founding member of the EU, a country that is not dissimilar to the UK, has a strong global trading outward looking, is entirely appropriate.”
Cameron will meet with Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte during his trip, but he will not share a platform with him for the speech set to be delivered to European diplomats, business leaders and others.
Many Tory MPs hope Cameron will use his speech to promise British voters an in/out referendum after the next election, however judging from the prime minister’s most recent comments they may be disappointed.
On Monday morning the prime minister dismissed the idea of an immediate in/out referendum, insisting that would be putting a “false choice” in front of voters.
But he said he is “not against a referendum” altogether and is in favour of one “in some cases”.
“The principle, I think, should be this: if you are fundamentally changing the relationship between Britain and Europe, then you should be having a referendum,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Asked whether it should be a straightforward question of in or out, Cameron said he would set out more detail in the highly-anticipated speech.
“You will have to wait for the speech for the full details but obviously I want to give people a proper choice,” he said.
“What I don’t favour, I think if we had an in/out referendum tomorrow or very shortly I don’t think that would be the right answer, for the simple reason I think we would be giving people a false choice, because right now there are a lot of people who are saying I would like to be in Europe but I’m not happy with every aspect of the relationship so I want to change.
“That is my view, so I think an in/out referendum is a false choice.”
Cameron joked last year that his long tease of Tory MPs over the content of his speech was “tantric”. For many backbench Tories anything less than an in/out referendum will not be a severe let down.