Region's MPs react to PM's Europe speech

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David Cameron outline his vision of Britain's role in the European Union. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire/Press Association Images

It's still cold at Westminster but David Cameron's big speech on Europe has received a very warm welcome from Conservative MPs across the East. Tory MPs from our region describe it as "excellent", 'fantastic" , some say they're "delighted". And for today at least they are united behind the Prime Minister.

That unity may not last. There is a significant number of Conservative MPs in our region who are eurosceptic, who see this pledge of a referendum not just as a chance of renegotiating our position in Europe but possibly leaving altogether. Harwich MP Douglas Carswell says the PM's speech is "fantastic", adding "he's waited all his adult life to hear a Conservative leader say what David Cameron said today." But the Essex MP also says it would take a very great deal to persuade him to join David Cameron and campaign to keep Britain in the EU. That's also the view of Peterborough MP Stewart Jackson, who resigned his junior government job in October 2011 to vote for a referendum. He says David Cameron has been under pressure from Tory backbenchers to promise a referendum.

There are other Conservative MPs who are pleased with today's speech but see it as way of renegotiating Britain's postion in Europe, like those in the Fresh Start group of Tory MPs including South Northamptonshire MP Andrea Leadsom and Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey. They would like to see powers taken back from Europe, like employment law and criminal and judicial matters.

Meanwhile Labour and the Liberal Democrats say they don't want a referendum, and they say the promise of one in 4 years leaves many businesses across the East with a real uncertainty about the future. Cambridge MP Julian Huppert says businesses in Cambridge have already raised concerns with him.

But privately many Tory MPs are so pleased because they believe todays speech will "prevent drift of further Tories to UKIP". Nigel Farage MEP tells me he believes the East of England is UKIP's most fertile territory . In the East UKIP came second in the European Parliamentary elections in 2009 and last November they polled nearly 15% and came third in the Corby By-election. Nigel Farage believes a referendum in 4 years is too far away and says it should be now.

And of course any referendum is dependent on David Cameron winning the next General Election in 2015 and then renegotiating our deal with Europe. Both of those tasks may prove tricky, though every Tory MP you speak to today believes David Cameron's big speech could make the first job a bit easier .

David Cameron today vowed to campaign "with all my heart and soul" for continued British membership of a reformed EU in an in/out referendum which will be staged by 2017 if Conservatives win the next general election.

The Prime Minister was cheered by Tory backbenchers as he arrived at the House of Commons after announcing that his party's election manifesto will seek a mandate to negotiate a "new settlement" for Britain, which will be put to voters in a referendum by the mid-point of the next Parliament.

But the plan brought divisions within the coalition government to the fore, as Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said renegotiation was "not in the national interest" and would create damaging uncertainty for business.

Labour leader Ed Miliband said that jubilant Conservatives wanted Britain out of the EU, and accused the Prime Minister of taking a "huge gamble" with the economy because he was "running scared" of the UK Independence Party (Ukip) and his own backbenchers.