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Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds Several years ago, the idea that the UK would be having a referendum on EU membership would have seemed fairly far-fetched. All of that changed when Prime Minister David Cameron made a speech at Bloomberg’s headquarters in London on 23 January 2013. In his Bloomberg Speech, David Cameron pledged that, if the Conservatives were elected in 2015, he would renegotiate the terms of the UK’s EU membership. The UK would then have a referendum on whether to stay in the EU (on the renegotiated terms) or to leave the EU. He made this commitment in his capacity as Conservative leader. The UK had a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government at the time, and the Liberal Democrats did not support the idea.

Skip to 0 minutes and 44 seconds In the UK’s 2015 General Election, the Conservatives pledged to hold an EU referendum by the end of 2017. The Labour Party, the main opposition, was not in favour of a referendum. On Election Day on 7 May 2015, the Conservatives unexpectedly won a small majority in the House of Commons. No longer in a coalition, the new government would take forward its pledge. After the election, David Cameron and his ministers began making visits to European capitals to prepare for the renegotiation. Much of the debate at the time focused on what would be in the renegotiation and what form any measures would take. The question was raised of whether the EU treaties would be changed as part of the renegotiation.

Skip to 1 minute and 23 seconds However, it was unlikely that the treaties would be changed before the referendum. The deadline was the end of 2017, and EU treaty reform usually takes a number of years. A few months later, on 10 November 2015, David Cameron set out his list of priorities for the renegotiation in a speech at Chatham House in London. He also sent a letter to the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, outlining these demands. The main themes were protecting countries outside the euro from Eurozone integration, improving the Single Market, opting out of ‘ever closer union’ and giving national parliaments more say, and reducing the movement of EU citizens to the UK. The UK’s EU renegotiation had now officially begun.

Skip to 2 minutes and 7 seconds UK negotiators and negotiators from the 27 other EU members, assisted by officials from the EU institutions, worked on proposals for a deal. The most difficult issue was migration, because of its potential to affect the free movement of people - one of the parts of the Single Market. Meanwhile, the EU Referendum Bill - which provides the legal basis for the referendum - received Royal Assent on 17 December 2015. The bill had been introduced several weeks after the election in May, but it had been delayed in Parliament due to debates on how the referendum would work. The December 2015 meeting of the European Council was the first opportunity for the renegotiation to be finalised. However, there was no agreement by then.

Skip to 2 minutes and 44 seconds In the meanwhile, David Cameron continued meeting individually with European leaders, in the UK and abroad, to advance the renegotiation. The European Council meeting on 18-19 February 2016 was the next opportunity to agree a deal. In the European Council, the prime ministers and presidents of the Member States worked on the remaining issues. Negotiations continued late into the night and the renegotiation was completed on 19 February 2016. The deal, made of up several different statements and decisions, was attached to the conclusions from the meeting. David Cameron returned from Brussels to London and consulted the UK Cabinet on the renegotiation agreement. The Cabinet approved the renegotiation and David Cameron announced that the referendum would take place on 23 June 2016.

Basics: From Bloomberg to Brussels

What was the path that led to the UK’s EU referendum? Anthony Salamone reviews recent history.

(Video/Design by Tim Askew. Voice/Script by Anthony Salamone.)

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Towards Brexit? The UK's EU Referendum

The University of Edinburgh