Cameron Signals He Doesn’t Want In-or-Out Vote on EU Membership

Prime Minister David Cameron said he wants to change Britain’s relationship with the European Union and that he doesn’t favor an in-or-out referendum now on membership.

“The beating heart of Britain is, we know we need to be in Europe, because we are a trading nation,” Cameron told ITV today. “But we’re not happy with every aspect at the moment -- there’s too much interference. People want that to be fixed, they want more of a say. We shouldn’t be frightened to involve the British people in that.”

Opposition leader Ed Miliband said yesterday that the prime minister’s strategy is “incredibly dangerous,” accusing him of “essentially sleepwalking us toward the exit door from the EU.” In a BBC radio interview, Cameron said a referendum now on leaving would be a “false choice,” and that he is “optimistic” other member countries will agree to changes to the U.K.’s relationship with the bloc.

Cameron, who is set to make a key speech on EU membership later this month, is under pressure from some members of his Conservative party to call a referendum on pulling out of the EU. The government’s language on Europe has hardened in recent days, with Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne telling Germany’s Die Welt newspaper in an interview published on Jan. 11 that the 27-nation bloc will need to change if Britain is to remain a member.

Lawmakers from Fresh Start, a group of euroskeptic Conservative members of parliament, will call for EU treaty changes to help reset a range of powers covering crime, justice and policing, the Sunday Telegraph said yesterday, citing a copy of a report to be published later this week.

EU Changes

“It does need to change and it is changing,” Cameron said today. “The opportunity for us to lead those changes are absolutely there.”

A ComRes poll published by the Sunday People newspaper yesterday showed the U.K. Independence party, which seeks Britain’s exit from the EU, with 23 percent support, more than double the share of the vote they received in 2009. The Conservative Party trails with 22 percent and Labour remains in the lead with 35 percent.

While 63 percent of Britons favor a referendum, support for outright withdrawal fell to 33 percent, according to the online poll of 2,059 people from Dec. 19 to Dec. 21.

“The last thing we should do is start to say that at some date in five or six, seven years hence let’s decide now to have an in-out referendum,” Miliband said. “That’s an incredible gamble.”

U.S. View

Philip Gordon, assistant secretary of state for European Affairs in President Barack Obama’s administration, last week warned Britain against a referendum, saying the U.K. staying in the EU is important to U.S. interests.

Cameron defended his decision to raise the question of Britain’s membership.

“This debate is happening anyway,” he told the BBC. “We have a choice as politicians: do we get out there, lead the debate, make a choice that I think will be right for Britain and right for Europe, or hide your head in the sand?”

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander, a member of the coalition government’s Liberal Democrat party, told Sky News yesterday that Britain “should continue to be a leading member of the EU.” Still, he acknowledged that he couldn’t see Britain “joining the euro in the foreseeable future, if ever.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Robert Hutton in London at rhutton1@bloomberg.net; Svenja O’Donnell in London at sodonnell@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.net

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