EU Referendum

2013 will be marked by the start of a very important debate on Europe.  The core countries in the Eurozone, led by Germany, believe that to ensure the survival of their currency they need to integrate more deeply, including in areas of taxation.

Of course, Britain is not in the euro, but these developments will mean a profound change to the architecture of the European Union, and this presents both a threat to our national interest and an opportunity.

The threat comes if we are affected by decisions of the new 'core' even though we're not in the Eurozone, for instance in relation to financial services.  We have to make sure that we keep the levers of control over such an important part of our economy.

The opportunity is that within a couple of years there will have to be a new inter-governmental treaty to create the new 'core'.  That negotiation will enable Britain to set out a new vision for Europe, one that will enable us - and perhaps other countries - to enjoy the benefits of the market without the headache of deeper integration.

This will also be an opportunity to identify areas where we can and should take powers back to our own Parliament.

These changes are so important that they will need to be put to a referendum in our country.  And that is exactly what I now expect to happen.

Within weeks the Prime Minister will make a much-anticipated speech on this subject.  I believe that he will set out his vision for renegotiated arrangements in Europe and the powers he wants to take back.

And I also believe that he will pledge a referendum on the outcome.  It's possible that  this will take place a year after the 2015 election, so that the referendum is mandated at the general election.

By this time the intergovernmental conference should have completed and the British people can be offered a clear choice - yes to the new arrangements with Europe, or no and leave the EU altogether.

Whether the people will vote to leave or not depends on how good they think the new deal is and what would best serve the national interest.

So 2013 promises to be a significant year.  Many of my constituents have been asking for a referendum on Europe.  At last they are to be given one.

Christopher N Howarth