THE majority of the region’s MPs welcomed David Cameron’s pledge to let Britain decide whether it wants to stay in the European Union.
In a hotly-anticipated speech yesterday, the Prime Minister promised voters a referendum on the issue - but only if he wins the 2015 General Election.
Mr Cameron indicated the vote would take place by the end of 2017, giving him time to renegotiate the UK’s relationship with Brussels.
Britons would then decide either to accept a new agreement - possibly with more powers repatriated to Westminster - or leave Europe altogether.
Mr Cameron said it was time for the British people to ‘have their say’ and acknowledged the public’s ‘growing frustration’ that decisions were being taken ‘further and further away from them’.
But he made it clear he wanted a ‘relationship between Britain and the EU that keeps us in it’.
Tim Farron, Liberal Democrat MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, backed the referendum but said it would be ‘economic madness’ for Britain to leave the EU.
“The relationship between Britain’s chattering classes and Europe has become so poisonous over the last 20 years that we have to make sure there’s consent for us to be part of the EU,” said Mr Farron.
But he added: “We do more business with the Netherlands every year through the EU than we do with the whole of Brazil, Russia, India and China combined. Millions of jobs and thousands in South Lakeland depend on Britain being in the EU.”
Conservative MP for Penrith and the Border, Rory Stewart, said the public’s view must be heard on the ‘important issue’.
He said: “There has been a developing sense of mistrust that there’s a gap between public opinion and politicians and the public must be given the chance to express its view.
“The big question is can we renegotiate something that’s appealing and that people can look at for the long-term and feel excited about?”
Morecambe and Lunesdale Conservative MP David Morris also welcomed Mr Cameron’s announcement, saying: “I was one of the signatories to the letter which called for a referendum. I would like us to repatriate power from Europe and for Europe to be modernised.
“I am looking forward to the referendum, which is something I have advocated for many years.”
But John Woodcock, Labour MP for Barrow and Furness, said: “Promising a referendum on an ill-defined prospectus of ‘reform’ in five years’ time is a recipe for instability that could endanger jobs and stifle much-needed investment.
“The priority right now should be jobs and growth – the Prime Minister’s policy has the potential to damage both.”
Meanwhile, North West Euro MP Paul Nuttall, of UKIP, claimed the Prime Minister only made the speech because of UKIP’s position in opinion polls.
He said: “Cameron’s speech was a devious attempt to kick the whole matter into the long grass. It is based on him winning the General Election and a referendum would be five years down the line.
“Our friends on the continent have no intention of giving anything more than lip service to the repatriation of powers.”
Rob Johnston, chief executive of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, said the north of England had benefited from investment because of Britain’s access to European markets and described the uncertainty that came with a referendum as ‘damaging’ for business.
“It is sensible to want to see what a restructured Europe looks like before making a decision. We don’t know yet what will be on the table and we should ensure we’re in a position to influence,” he said.