Cameron plans UK vote on EU exit if he wins poll

Written by Associated Press | London | Updated: Jan 24 2013, 06:29am hrs
Prime Minister David Cameron said on Wednesday he will offer British citizens a vote on whether to leave the European Union if his party wins the next election, a move which could trigger alarm among fellow member states.

He acknowledged that public disillusionment with the EU is at an all-time high, using a long-awaited speech in central London to say the terms of Britains membership in the bloc should be revised and its citizens should have a say.

Cameron proposed that his Conservative Party renegotiate UKs relationship with the EU if it wins the next general election, expected in 2015. Once that new settlement has been negotiated, we will give the British people a referendum with a very simple in or out choice to stay in the EU on these new terms. Or come out altogether, Cameron said. It will be an in-out referendum.

The stated possibility of a referendum is expected to frustrate other EU states currently focused on stemming the euro zone crisis.

Already, speculation over a vote on leaving the EU has prompted a chorus of concern from around the world, stressing the importance of the UKs presence in the bloc and warning about the economic consequences of a British exit.

Even the US, which normally stays out of disputes among EU states, waded into the debate. The White House said last week President Barack Obama told Cameron in a phone call that the US values a strong UK in a strong EU.

But Cameron stressed that his first priority is renegotiating the EU treaty not leaving the bloc.

I say to our European partners, frustrated as some of them no doubt are by Britains attitude: work with us on this, he said.

Much of the criticism directed at Cameron has accused him of trying an a la carte approach to membership in the bloc and seeking to play by some but not all of its rules. French foreign minister Laurent Fabius warned on Wednesday that a British withdrawal from the EU would be dangerous for both the bloc and Britain. Say that Europe is a soccer club. You join this soccer club, but you cant say you want to play rugby, he told France-Info radio.

Membership of the EU has given the UK access to the massive joint European market as well as a say in how the region should govern itself and run its financial markets. The country has also benefited from EU funds to build infrastructure such as broadband networks.

Cameron insisted on Wednesday that a one size fits all approach to the 27-nation EU is misguided. Britain, a fiercely independent island nation, has always had a fraught relationship with the bloc. It benefits from the single market but is among 10 of the EU countries not to use the euro.

Let us not be misled by the fallacy that a deep and workable single market requires everything to be harmonised, to hanker after some unattainable and infinitely level playing field, he said. Countries are different. They make different choices. We cannot harmonise everything.

Even as he raised the spectre of a referendum, Cameron reiterated his view that Britain should stay in the EU. I speak as a British prime minister with a positive vision for the future of the EU. A future in which Britain wants, and should want, to play a committed and active part, he said. There is no doubt that we are more powerful in Washington, in Beijing, in Delhi because we are a powerful player in the EU.

But in order to stay, the bloc needs to change, Cameron said, as he laid out a vision of a new EU built on five principles: competitiveness; flexibility; power flowing back to, not just away from, member states; democratic accountability; and fairness.

Taking a direct swipe at those who have warned that raising the possibility of a referendum has created uncertainty for business, Cameron will say that questions about EU membership are already there and wont go away. But he cautioned against holding a vote immediately, saying it would be wrong to hold a referendum before we have had a chance to put the relationship right and before the euro zone emerges from crisis.

Must find compromise with Britain on EU: Merkel

Berlin : The EU and Britain must be prepared to make compromises, German chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday after British PM David Cameron demanded a radical reform of the EU and a referendum on UK membership. Germany, and I personally, want Britain to be an important part and an active member of the EU, she told reporters. We are prepared to talk about British wishes but we must always bear in mind that other countries have different wishes and we must find a fair compromise. We will talk intensively with Britain about its individual ideas but that has some time over the months ahead, Merkel said. Reuters