People are already dug in on both sides of argument

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What are we to make of David Cameron’s pledge to allow the British people to choose their own destiny when it comes to Europe?

Before we discuss what may happen as a result of his ground-breaking speech, we should consider why the Prime Minister chose to make it at this particular time.

Intimidated by back-bench muttering, and worried by constituency workers sending back discouraging bulletins about supporters defecting to the UK Independence Party, Cameron knew he had to do something.

But his promise of a referendum will have had a bitter-sweet resonance for UKIP, whose recent surge in popularity shook Cameron to his soft-left core.

UKIP leader Nigel Farage now knows he is doomed to learn the bitter truth behind the old adage that he who wields the knife can never wear the crown.

His party’s anticipated boost at the local elections this year, and the European poll in 2014, can no longer be taken for granted.

UKIP seems destined to pay a heavy price for being right all along. The other benefit Cameron will derive – apart from improving the Conservatives’ chances at the next general election – is the elephant trap he has left for New Labour.

They immediately tumbled in head-first by declaring they do not support an in-out referendum.

This leaves the Prime Minister in possession of a hefty club which he will use to beat Ed Miliband around the head.

In future Westminster skirmishes, he will be able to hit back with variations on the theme of ‘at least we trust the British people and are not afraid of the democratic process’.

But what happens between now and 2017 – which is when the referendum is likely to be held – is largely academic.

People are already dug in on both sides of the argument, and positions are unlikely to be influenced by heavy bombardments of facts and figures.

However, the BBC has already made its position clear. In street interviews purporting to reflect the views of the people of Birmingham, its reporter contrived not to find a single person who wished to leave Europe.