LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister David Cameron has performed a U-turn and ruled out holding a European Union membership referendum on May 5, 2016, a shift to placate some of his own lawmakers who were opposed to it being held on the same day as local elections.
The move will be interpreted as a tactical one designed to preserve unity in Cameron's ruling Conservative Party which is riven by differences over Europe and follows another U-turn by Cameron on the subject earlier this month.
Cameron has promised to renegotiate Britain's relationship with the 28-nation bloc before holding an in-out referendum by the end of 2017. He has said he would be open to holding the vote before then if he can complete the renegotiation early.
But Eurosceptic lawmakers from Cameron's Conservatives had feared he might try to secure a "yes" vote by holding the vote as early as next May, the same day as elections in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, in order to limit the time available to debate any deal he secures.
On Monday night, in a policy shift, his government tabled an amendment to a law paving the way for the referendum which rules out holding the referendum on the same day as the local elections.
"We have listened to the views expressed by MPs across the house and decided that we won't hold the referendum on May 5, 2016," a spokeswoman for Cameron's Downing Street office said.
The law is due to be debated in parliament on Tuesday.
The decision to rule out the May 5 vote comes after Cameron told parliament last week he thought voters were capable of making two decisions on one day, suggesting the referendum could be held on May 5.
The government is also likely to promise not to spend large amounts of public money to influence the campaign in the immediate run-up to the referendum, another demand from Eurosceptic lawmakers.
(Reporting by Kate Holton and Michael Holden; Editing by Andrew Osborn)