LONDON — Voters will be asked "Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?" in a referendum to be held by 2017, the British government announced today.
The wording is laid out in legislation for the referendum, to be introduced into parliament today by the centre-right government of Prime Minister David Cameron.
"It will pave the way for the British people to have their say for the first time in forty years on our place in the EU," a source in Cameron's office said.
"The question is clear. It will be for voters to decide whether to stay or leave."
Cameron has said that he hopes the bill will pass in "extra quick time" and has not ruled out holding the referendum vote in 2016, after winning a surprise slim majority in parliament in this month's general election.
Polls since the start of the year have shown support in Britain for remaining in the EU to be between 37 and 49 per cent – higher in almost every survey than the desire to leave, which has ranged from 34 to 44 per cent.
The announcement of the wording comes as Cameron begins a multi-stop tour of European cities today and Friday to argue for reforms to the 28-member bloc on issues such as bureaucracy and reducing welfare for migrants.
The prime minister has said he will campaign for Britain to remain in the union after securing the reforms he wants.
Nigel Farage, leader of the eurosceptic UK Independence Party, said the wording of the referendum question gave a disadvantage to those campaigning to leave the EU, and accused Cameron of not being serious in his bid for reforms.
"That Cameron is opting to give the pro-EU side the positive 'Yes' suggests strongly that his negotiations are so much fudge," said Farage, whose party has just one seat in parliament but has amassed support as it demands cuts to immigration.
"He has already decided which way he wants the answer to be given."
Cameron, who hopes to talk to all EU chiefs before a European Council summit, will meeting Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte for lunch on Thursday and French President Francois Hollande for dinner.
Tomorrow, he will travel to Warsaw for talks with Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz before meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.
Earlier this week the government announced that British, Irish, and Commonwealth residents of the UK aged over 18 would be eligible to vote in the referendum.
But most citizens of the EU resident in the UK will not be able to vote, as they can in local elections, and did in Scotland's referendum on independence last year. — AFP