By Anne-Marie O’Donnell
David Cameron’s plans to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU ahead of the 2017 referendum on membership have been dealt a blow by French President Francois Hollande.
Speaking during a UK-France summit, Hollande said that any UK plans to negotiate treaty changes by 2017 were “not a priority” and warned that the EU could not be expected to “follow the example” of one country.
The news could significantly jeopardise Mr Cameron’s plan to negotiate new terms to the UK’s relationship with the EU and put the deal before voters at the referendum in 2017. Furthermore, the lack of any reform on offer could increase the likelihood of voters opting out of the EU all together.
“We feel revising the treaties is not a priority for the time being,” said President Hollande. “We can’t expect to follow the example of one country in Europe to determine the rest.”
The comments came as Prime Minister David Cameron pledged that the 2017 referendum would go ahead despite a private member’s bill being voted down by peers in the House of Lords – as long as the Conservatives are voted in for another term at the next general election.
Mr Cameron is expected to take the “unprecedented” step, according to Labour’s Douglas Alexander, of using the Parliament Act to force the EU referendum bill past opposition and into law.
“We are going to try to reintroduce the same bill in the next session of Parliament and, if necessary, rely on the provisions in the Parliament Act to stop Labour and Liberal Democrat peers killing the bill once again,” said Mr Cameron.
“The referendum I want to give the British people does not depend on a private member’s bill in this session or the next session. It depends on me being prime minister after the next election – and if I am prime minister after the election there will be a referendum.”
Mr Cameron a year ago pledged to hold a referendum on EU membership in 2017 if the Conservatives win the 2015 general election. It’s likely that the lure of a promised referendum in exchange for another term in power could win back voters for the Conservative party, therefore strengthening the Tory hold on the UK.
Recent polls have shown that Conservative voters have been deserting the Tories for UKIP over the EU issue due to their staunch support for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. A Euro poll earlier this month showed that the Tories were likely to finish behind UKIP in upcoming European Parliament elections, placing the Tories third behind Nigel Farage’s party and Labour.
Mr Cameron has made clear that he sees no opportunity to join forces with UKIP. He is understood to have told MPs last month that they want to “destroy the Conservative Party”, indicating that the Conservatives will harden the line on Europe if it diminishes UKIP’s rise as opposition.