This content is not available in your region

The future of the European Union reaches a crossroads with the British referendum

Access to the comments Comments
The future of the European Union reaches a crossroads with the British referendum
Text size Aa Aa

A European family united…for the present. The heads of state gathered for the pre-summit photograph in February ahead of two days of tense talks.

British Prime Minister David Cameron had arrived in Brussels to forge a new deal between Britain and the EU that he believed would make remaining part of the bloc an attractive prospect for voters.

It was over forty years ago that the then Prime Minister Edward Heath took Britain into Europe. Debate on the UK’s place has followed during those decades and in announcing the referendum David Cameron said he hoped it would “settle this European question in British politics” once and for all.

But first he had to negotiate new terms for Britain and an exemption for Britain from the EU’s commitment to what’s been described as an “ever-closer union.” He was in bullish mood.

“As I’ve said, we’ll only do a deal if we get what Britain needs,” he told reporters.

Two days of tense talks ensued. An EU-wide English style breakfast to address Cameron’s concerns was delayed as was a lunch which finally became an English dinner.

The PM won changes to welfare benefits that he said would reduce immigration and an exemption for Britain to that “ever-closer union”.

The agreement was seen as a key stepping stone to the UK’s continued membership. But far from uniting his own party and the country the arguments and debate have been divisive and bitter.

The referendum is a critical crossroads for the future of the EU family.