POLITICIANS in Bolton have broadly supported the idea of a referendum on Europe — even if they are divided on the reasons behind it.

In a landmark speech yesterday, Prime Minister David Cameron called for a change in Britain’s relationship with the European Union and pledged an “in or out referendum” in the first half of the next parliament — meaning a vote could take place by the end of 2017 if the Conservatives are re-elected.

But some local politicians claim Mr Cameron made the announcement to appease the right of his own party, saying the vote should happen “sooner rather than later” to draw a line under the issue.

MP for Bolton North East, David Crausby, was secretary of the Get Britain Out campaign’s Bury branch in 1975, when the last referendum was held on membership of what was then the Common Market.

But he said the EU had delivered too much, and Britain was in “too deep”, to pull out now.

He said: “I’ve always supported the idea of a referendum but think it should be held sooner rather than later. If we’d have pulled out then we could have built different relationships, but the Commonwealth has declined and those countries have gone their own way.”

He added: “The people campaigning to leave then were left wing, now they’re right wing — that’s because the European Union has delivered a lot for the left on things like rights for workers, women and ethnic minorities.”

Bolton’s Conservative leader David Greenhalgh said: “I’m delighted. People are getting fed up of our country constantly being told what to do by Brussels.

“David Cameron is right to re-negotiate our position and relationship with Europe, and then go to the British people to let them have the final say.”

Conservative deputy leader Andy Morgan said: “Many of us haven’t forgotten that it was Labour who urged this country to join the Euro 10 years ago with a prediction of meltdown if we didn’t. That never happened so their scaremongering will not wash with the majority of Bolton residents.”

Bolton Liberal Democrat leader Roger Hayes said: “Liberal Democrats would campaign for Britain retaining a strong voice within the EU as we believe it is very much in Britain’s interests.”

Geoff Kay, secretary of Bolton’s fledgling UKIP branch, which was launched this month, said: “Cameron is recognising the popularity of UKIP and the negative EU sentiment across the country. Being as politically astute as ever, he is endeavouring to take the wind out of our sails by this pre-emptive action.”

Matt Kilsby, Bolton Unison branch chairman, said: “David Cameron’s call for a referendum seems to be a cynical ploy to try to divert public attention away from any debate about the failings of government policies at home.”