Skip navigation
The Progressive Policy Think Tank

UK should hold 'in-out' referendum on Europe after next election

Positive case could win campaign for Britain to stay in

The British public should have the chance to vote in an 'in-out' referendum on membership of the European Union, after the next election, according to a new report from the think tank IPPR. The report, to be published ahead of the November EU Council, argues that after the creation of a new banking, fiscal and political union the time will be right to give the public a vote but that an earlier referendum before 2015 would leave "more questions asked than answered".

The report says a referendum is inevitable because treaty change may be necessary to approve changes in the governance of the Eurozone, activating the 'referendum lock' created by the European Union Act 2011. The report also highlights the Foreign and Commonwealth Office 'review of the balance of competences' which is widely expected to propose a new relationship with the EU which David Cameron has hinted he will put to a popular vote.

But the report argues that an 'in-out' referendum is preferable to one that asks the British people to ratify a renegotiated UK-EU relationship for three reasons:

  • anything short of an 'in-out' question will fail to satisfy large sections of political opinion and the public that they have been given a genuine say on the fundamental question of Britain's relationship with the EU
  • European Commission president, Jos? Manuel Barroso, has said that there are no supporters on the continent for a British repatriation of powers
  • it would act as a catalyst for pro-European voices in each of the main political parties, businesses, civil society and the media to coalesce behind a positive and hard-headed campaign

The report argues that the EU's institutions, and successive British governments, have not done enough to articulate the benefits of the continued relationship despite the clear evidence. The report says that as a result, a vacuum has been created where the EU's flaws are magnified and myths accumulate. The report argues that the time has come for pro-European voices in Britain to make the pro-EU case.

Will Straw, IPPR Associate Director, said:

"A referendum of some kind on Britain's relationship with the EU now looks inevitable. But only if it is an 'in-out' referendum will it be decisive. Just as the Prime Minister has called for Scotland to have a vote on its relationship with the UK and only then consider which powers should be devolved, any referendum on the UK's relationship with the EU should also be clear and decisive.

"A referendum before 2015 could leave more questions asked than answered as the Eurozone attempts to stabilise its financial and fiscal crisis. Yet once these institutional questions about the Eurozone have been resolved, the UK will be in a position to make a clear decision about its involvement in non-Eurozone EU institutions.

"Advocates of continued membership must not fall back on the old arguments for European integration of peace and prosperity. There is currently no compelling narrative in Britain today in favour of the EU. Debates tend to be overly technical and related to issues of the past like the single market, monetary union or enlargement. A new purpose based on geopolitical realities, economic necessity and cultural ties is needed if Britain is to secure public support for its continued EU membership."

The last time Britain voted on membership of Europe, 67 per cent voted in favour of remaining in the EEC. But 67 per cent now want an 'in-out' referendum and 48 per cent currently say they would vote to leave, compared with 31 per cent who would vote to stay in.

Notes to editors:

IPPR's new report - Staying in: a reform plan for Britain and Europe - will be published ahead of the EU Council meeting on November 22nd.

For more on IPPR's recent research on Europe, see:


Richard Darlington, 07525 481 602, [email protected]