David Cameron wants the UK to stay in the European Union .

And he hopes to win over sceptical voters by convincing them that he has triumphed in negotiations designed to get a better deal for Britain from our European partners.

But it turns out that the changes he hopes to achieve are insubstantial.

And those who want Britain to leave the EU – including a number of Conservative MPs – think they have a real chance of persuading the nation that we are better off out.

The planned referendum on leaving the EU is getting closer. It’s due by the end of 2017 at the latest, and the Times has reported it could be held next year.

Mr Cameron’s strategy is to renegotiate the UK’s relationship with the EU and then to ask voters whether they want to stay in it on the basis of the new, better deal.

And he’s hinted that if he doesn’t get the changes he wants then he could campaign for the UK to leave.

In his speech on November 10, Mr Cameron said: “If we can’t reach such an agreement and if Britain’s concerns were to be met with a deaf ear, which I do not believe will happen, then we will have to think again about whether this European Union is right for us.

“As I have said before – I rule nothing out.”

The unanimous belief at Westminster, however, is that Mr Cameron wants Britain to stay, and the negotiations are largely designed to boost the “in” campaign when the referendum takes place.

It’s an approach that could succeed.

Meriden MP Caroline Spelman is campaigning for the UK to stay in the EU

A poll by YouGov in September found that 38 per cent of voters would vote to stay in the EU if a referendum was held today, while 40 per cent would vote to leave (and others would not vote or had not yet decided).

But this changed when YouGov asked the same voters what they would do if "the British government under David Cameron renegotiated our relationship with Europe and said that Britain’s interests were now protected.”

In this situation, 47 per cent said they would vote to stay in and just 29 per cent to leave.

Of course, it’s a leading question. But it’s exactly how Mr Cameron hopes to present the debate.

So the demands he is making of the European Union matter, and the Prime Minister set these out in a letter to Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, on November 10.

He’s asking for changes in four areas, including:

  • Protecting the interests of EU members, such as the UK, who are not members of the euro.

  • Improving competitiveness, including by cutting regulation.

  • Ending Britain’s obligation to work towards an “ever closer union”.

  • Controlling immigration, for example by ensuring people coming to Britain from the EU must live here and contribute for four years before they qualify for in-work benefits or social housing.

However, the first two amount to little more than getting everyone to agree to continue doing what they’re meant to be doing anyway.

The principle of “ever closer union” is a phrase that appears in the 1957 Treaty of Rome. But, in practice, it’s already clear that members of the euro may continue down this path while those countries which continue to use their own currency – such as Switzerland or Denmark as well as the UK – will not be obliged to follow them.

Making it harder for workers from other EU countries to claim benefits would arguably be a real change. However, Tory critics deny that it would have much impact on immigration, as long as the principle of free movement between EU nations applies.

And those critics aren’t holding back.

Khalid Mahmood
Birmingham Perry Barr MP Khalid Mahmood wants the UK to leave the EU

Responding to the publication of the UK government’s demands, Tory eurosceptic Jacob Rees-Mogg complained: “This is pretty thin gruel - it is much less than people had come to expect from the Government.”

Conservative Peter Lilley said the Government was using up its “limited bargaining power to obtain purely symbolic changes such as removing the words ‘ever closer union’.”

Tory David Nuttall complained: “What has not been included in the statement is far more important than what has been included. There is nothing about regaining control over our trade deals with the rest of the world, nothing about regaining control over farming, fisheries, regional aid or state aid and nothing about ending the free movement of people.”

These were just a few of the comments.

Labour MPs generally support EU membership. Wolverhampton South East MP Pat McFadden, the Shadow Minister for Europe, told the Commons: “Labour Members are clear about the fact that Britain is a more powerful, prosperous and secure country as a result of its membership of the EU . . . we do not stand for the nationalism that says that we would be better off out, or for a Brexit [British exit] that would see Britain weaker in power and influence, and diminished in the eyes of the world.”

There are exceptions, however. For example, Birmingham Labour MP Khalid Mahmood (Perry Barr) will campaign for the UK to leave.

But there are also many Tories who want to stay in the EU. They include Midlands MP Caroline Spelman, MP for Meriden, who told the Commons: “The creation of a single market for services would be a big prize for British business, and ... it would create many jobs ... that can be achieved only by being within the European Union.”

David Cameron probably agrees with her.

The Prime Minister took a huge gamble by promising a public vote on quitting the EU and it’s far from certain that he’s going to win.