Big flaws in plan for EU referendum
We agree with the principle of a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union. There is widespread antipathy towards the EU and the perception that too much power has been devolved to Brussels. This debate has boiled on corrosively for far too long and it needs to be resolved.
In saying this, we should point out that, in our opinion, this country is far better off in Europe than going it alone. The main reason for that assessment is that membership of the EU is essential in ensuring access to the European markets which are vital to our exporters.
However, the thing to do is win that argument in a referendum and put the matter to rest rather than plodding along with the current level of discontent.
We therefore agree with Prime Minister David Cameron when he said yesterday: "It is time for the British people to have their say."
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The problem is Mr Cameron has decided that time is not actually now but in 2017 and only after an extremely problematic attempt to renegotiate Britain's relationship with the EU to give the country more favourable terms.
Not surprisingly, France and Germany have reacted badly to that idea and have pointed out that the UK cannot "cherry pick" over EU membership.
And Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has warned that the timescale will mean years of uncertainty which will affect jobs and growth and that this is "not in the national interest".
Mr Cameron has decided not to hold a referendum now because he believes it would be a "false choice" as Europe is set to change following the eurozone crisis.
He said it would be "wrong to ask people whether to stay or go before we have had a chance to put the relationship right".
We see the point. However, the reality is that our EU partners are extremely unlikely to ever agree that Britain should have a different set of rules about membership than everybody else.
It would have been better, in our opinion, to grasp the nettle at once and push for a referendum before the next election.
This would have avoided what is likely to be a fruitless tussle with our European neighbours over the terms of EU membership as well as preventing a prolonged period of uncertainty.