I would like to speak to you all this evening about our relationship with our neighbours in Europe. For a long time now, many in our country have argued that the European Union is becoming too powerful and imposing restrictions on our way of life. Others disagree and feel that we have a strong voice in Europe that enables us to shape the future for the good of all the citizens of Europe. Some feel that being part of a common market is a good thing but worry about the European Union becoming a super state. All of these varying opinions are legitimate and sincerely held. But, I am afraid, because they are now so strongly felt, there is a grave danger that this issue will divide us as a nation and damage our society.
So I believe that we must now address this issue together. We must decide what sort of nation we wish to be and what role we want to play in the world before adjusting our relationships with our European neighbours, either as a continuing member of the European Union or as a nation outside the Union.
I cannot pretend that the choice ahead of us is an easy one. Indeed it would be wholly irresponsible for me or your government to do so. Our relationships with our European friends have been developed over the decades since the last, terrible, world war. They are necessarily complex and it will take time to work out exactly what our options are.
But, I hope you will agree that we cannot allow the issue to fester. We should consider all the facts together and make a decision about our future. To that end your Cabinet has unanimously agreed to bring forward legislation to enable us to hold a referendum on 23 June 2016. In preparation for the referendum, so that we are all properly informed, our Civil Service has begun the complex process of gathering all the relevant information necessary to consider and set out all the options that might be available to us, together with the associated advantages and disadvantages. It is a major task that we in your government believe will involve between ten to fifteen thousand officials working in three hundred different work streams. Nevertheless, we believe that the work can be completed by the end of May 2016. Then, your representatives in parliament, using free votes, will be asked, through a process of elimination, to decide on a preferred option for leaving the European Union. And finally, we will all then have the opportunity, in the referendum, to choose that preferred leave option or to remain in the European Union.
There will be no need for any sort of political campaigning in relation to this process. I wish to spare us all from that because, as we all know, political campaigning can be misleading, if not deliberately manipulated by individuals who do not have the best interest of us all as citizens at heart. Instead, as we proceed, you will receive progress reports at regular intervals direct from our Civil Service so that you are fully informed as we move towards the referendum. You will also receive a summary of the final findings and recommendations arrived at by the Civil Service before they are presented to parliament. And on top of that you will be able to access more detailed information, if you wish, and ask any questions that you might have by using the Referendum Website that is now up and running.
(Website address on screen)
Finally, I should say that the decisions we are about to make are profoundly important. They will effect us and future generations for decades to come. The responsibility on us all is enormous but I hope you will all agree that we must face our responsibilities together and deal with the issues as soon as is practically possible through this open, fair, and democratic process.
I wish you all good fortune in this national endeavour, and earnestly hope that we can resolve these issues together before moving confidently forward, after the referendum, in pursuit of our agreed national objectives.
Thank you all. Goodnight.
(Prime Minister David Cameron speaking from No 10 Downing Street on the 28th May 2015.)