Prime Minister David Cameron came the closest yet to offering voters a referendum on Britain’s relationship with the European Union as he sought to appease euro-skeptic members of his ruling Conservative Party.
The euro crisis has opened up an opportunity for Britain to seek a “fresh settlement” with the bloc, Cameron told the BBC’s “Today” radio program. His government would then need to “seek fresh consent for that settlement” and a referendum would be “the cleanest, neatest, simplest and most sensible way of doing things,” he said.
Cameron has hardened his stance on Europe after previously suggesting that consent could be secured at a general election. He stopped short of promising what many euro-skeptics want -- a referendum offering a straight choice between staying in the EU and leaving it. The premier will tomorrow deliver his keynote speech to the Conservatives’ annual conference in Birmingham, central England.
“Why I have always opposed the straight ’in-out’ question is that I am neither in favor of out -- leaving altogether --nor am I satisfied with the status quo,” he said.
Cameron also said that any popular vote would not come soon. “Right now the priority for Europe is to deal with the euro-zone crisis, so we have to show some tactical, strategic patience while we help our partners and neighbors sort out their currency,” he said.
Britain is examining areas of policy opt-outs from the EU. On Oct. 6, when asked about the possibility of abandoning the free movement of labor in Europe, Cameron said, “heavens above, we have got so many unemployed people in our country,” refusing to say whether it is an area he is looking at.
Home Secretary Theresa May was cited by the Sunday Times newspaper Oct. 6 as calling for a review of workers’ ability to switch countries, one of the EU’s central tenets, as the government seeks to control immigration.
“We are looking at this whole area of the abuse of the freedom of movement,” the newspaper quoted May as saying. “But we will go further on this, and the issue of free movement will be part of the review” the government is carrying out into Britain’s relationship with the EU.
Cameron today repeated his suggestion that the EU should have a two-tier budget structure, with countries in the euro region paying more toward governance of the 27-nation bloc.
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