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At different times statements by Prime Ministers about the UK’s relationship with the European Union have sought to set the agenda, capture public opinion and set the tone for future debates on Europe. This House of Lords Library briefing outlines some of these key statements made by Prime Ministers since 1970 and reproduces the manifesto commitments made at general elections by each party over the same period.

The briefing is set out over three sections. The first section charts key speeches made by Prime Ministers between 1970 and 2010, therefore covering the period when the UK entered in to the European Economic Community (EEC), the 1975 referendum held on the UK’s continuing membership and subsequent developments over the course of the decades that followed, up to and including the 2005 Labour Government.

The second section then explores the 2010 Coalition Government’s position on the EU, focusing on David Cameron’s Bloomberg speech in 2013 where he announced he would seek a renegotiation of the UK’s terms of membership, which would then be put to a referendum. 

The 2015 Conservative Party manifesto confirmed this stance. It stated that in government the Conservatives would “negotiate a new settlement for Britain in Europe, and then ask the British people whether they want to stay in the EU on this reformed basis or leave” with an in-out referendum being held “before the end of 2017”. The third section looks at key speeches made on this issue by David Cameron since the 2015 general election and the developments that led to the announcement that the EU referendum would take place on 23 June 2016.

The Appendix to this briefing provides extracts from political party manifestos since 1970 charting the various positions taken over the last four decades.

For further information, the House of Commons Library has prepared a Reading List on UK–EU Relations 2013–16: Reform, Renegotiation, Withdrawal (4 March 2016) and the parliamentary web page, The UK’s EU Referendum 2016 Explained, includes other key documents, briefings and resources.

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