WHEN UK Prime Minister David Cameron stepped up to the microphone last week, he was in no mood to beat around the bush.

“You will have to judge what is best for you and your family, for your children and grandchildren, for our country,” he said straight to people watching at home.

“Your decision. Nobody else’s … At that moment, you will hold this country’s destiny in your hands.”

The direct appeal was no accident. He was trying to rally the public ahead of a “once in a generation choice” facing the UK that will mark the defining moment of Mr Cameron’s career.

Before the end of 2017, people in the UK will vote on whether to remain part of the 28-member European Union or not, in an ‘in or out’ referendum that could have major consequences for all of the countries involved. As the campaigning begins in earnest, here’s what you need to know about the ‘once in a generation choice’.


Mr Cameron used the speech to announce a formal letter he has written to European Council President Donald Tusk, outlining what the UK wants in exchange for staying in the Union. Namely; less European meddling in UK affairs.

“I am asking European leaders for a clear, legally binding and irreversible agreement to end Britain’s obligation to work towards an ever closer union. That will mean that Britain can never be entangled in a political union against our will … or be drawn into any kind of United States of Europe,” he said.

“Let’s acknowledge that the answer to every problem is not always more Europe. Sometimes it is less Europe … one size does not fit all.”

He outlined four major demands for the 28-member bloc including moves to make the single European market more competitive and less discriminatory for British businesses, bolster powers for national parliaments and tackle “abuses” of the right to free movement, which have seen net migration in Britain rise to more than 300,000 a year.

All of which is to be renegotiated in a “legally binding and irreversible way”.

How close the UK should be to Europe has been a subject of debate for years but British Prime Minister David Cameron has promised a referendum on the issue before the end of 2017. Picture: Kirsty Wigglesworth / AFP

How close the UK should be to Europe has been a subject of debate for years but British Prime Minister David Cameron has promised a referendum on the issue before the end of 2017. Picture: Kirsty Wigglesworth / AFPSource:AFP

The letter makes good on a promise Mr Cameron made three years ago amid growing concern in the UK about the level of control the European Parliament has over domestic affairs.

It was meant as a way to stamp out doubt on the debate that has given rise to anti-Europe parties like the UKIP. But that was before the Islamic state took control of vast swathes of Iraq and Syria sending millions of refugees towards Europe, and before the Greek financial crisis brought the euro to the brink of collapse.

In September 2014, when the numbers of migrants in the Channel Tunnel trying to reach Britain reached their peak, a YouGov poll showed support for leaving took the lead for the first time in eight months, at 40 to 38 per cent.

Conservatives themselves are split on the issue. Mr Cameron believes renegotiating the terms of the deal will help the UK get the “best of both worlds” in Europe — the benefits of access to a single market without having to bear the cost. However other members of his own party immediately slammed his speech for not going far enough, with one describing it as “pretty thin gruel”.


Mr Tusk is soon to begin talks with European leaders, with a major summit due in December to discuss the issue.

European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said while some elements are feasible others are “highly problematic”, such as the “direct discrimination” between EU citizens which comes from proposals that EU citizens must live and work in the country for four years before getting access to benefits.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was “reasonably confident” of a deal, as did Conservative Chancellor George Osborne who is Mr Cameron’s closest political ally.

However another European source told AFP the British will have to “climb down from their tree” if they want to stay in the eurozone — which is easily the UK’s largest trading partner. UKIP leader Nigel Farage said it was “clear that Mr Cameron is not aiming for any substantial renegotiation” on the issue.

Within the UK, campaign groups have begun to mobilise including the pro-EU groupStronger in Europe, led by former Marks and Spencer’s boss Stuart Rose, which claims the UK is better off economically and security-wise in a union that puts it at the heart of world affairs. Opposition group Vote Leave wants the country out of the EU, while Business for Britain has launched a campaign for those who are undecided but want to see changes in the relationship.


By Adam