Conservative Party Conference 2011: Boris Johnson defies David Cameron to call for referendum on Europe

The London mayor said it was “not a bad idea” to give the British people a direct say on Europe. He told a fringe meeting at the Conservative conference that voters deserved a chance to express their views on the issue.

He said: “The British people haven’t had a say on Europe since 1975. There hasn’t been a vote. It seems to me to be that if a reasonable question could be framed and put to the people of this country, I think it is not a bad idea.”

One option for the referendum would be an “in-out referendum”, he said.

He predicted that while voters might not vote to leave the EU, they might demand a “looser relationship” with Brussels.

Mr Johnson, seen as a potential future Conservative leadership contender, spoke hours after Mr Cameron had ruled out any popular vote on EU issues and insisted that the Conservatives should not focus on the issue