Prime Minister David Cameron said he will seek a “fresh settlement” on Britain’s relationship with the European Union after the 2015 general election, while stopping short of committing to a referendum.
The premier will use a speech this fall to set out his approach to Europe, pointing to the economic crisis in the euro area as a reason for Britain to retain an arm’s length relationship with the EU.
“A new settlement and a fresh consent from the British people, that is what I believe we need,” Cameron told Sky News today in Rio de Janeiro, where he is leading a trade delegation. “I think that is the way the country wants to go and that is the way we should go, safeguarding Britain’s interests.” He told ITN News the move could come “in the next Parliament.”
Cameron is under pressure from his own Conservative lawmakers to set out a more euro-skeptic stance on Europe and a referendum on the country’s membership. He is under equal pressure from his Liberal Democrat coalition partners to embrace closer integration.
“The euro zone of 17 countries with one currency; I believe that one day they are going to move toward one economic policy,” Cameron said. “We are not going to be part of that, and I think that will provide over time opportunities for a new settlement between Britain and Europe.”
One of the most dangerous areas for Cameron in dealing with his party will come in the EU budget negotiations, slated for November. At a time when the prime minister is overseeing austerity at home, any result other than a reduced contribution from the U.K. will be criticized.
Also under negotiation this year are plans to introduce EU-wide rules on banking, with Britain arguing its own institutions shouldn’t be covered. Cameron last year refused to join 25 other nations in an EU-wide treaty to rescue the euro.
Cameron said today Britain will stand apart from a range of EU crime and policing laws, a move that will please many Tory lawmakers. Asked by the BBC whether the government will exercise its right to opt out, Cameron said: “That has to be done before the end of the year, and the opt-out is there. We’ll be exercising that opt-out.”
Good for Britain
“The key thing, then, is which of the array of things you’ve come out of do you actually think are good for Britain and you want to cooperate with European partners on? And that’s a discussion we’re having at the moment,” he said.
After a Sept. 24 private dinner for business leaders at his party’s annual conference, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg described opponents of Britain’s membership of the EU as “insular,” “chauvinistic” and “short-sighted.”
More than a quarter of Tory lawmakers defied the prime minister last year to vote for a referendum on leaving the EU.
Today, Clegg said that Cameron hasn’t said anything new.
“There is currently no process of treaty change under way and no treaty change proposal on the table,” Clegg’s spokeswoman, who declined to be named under government rules, said in an e-mailed statement. “In 2011, the government legislated for an act to enable the British people to have the final say in any treaty change that pools further U.K. powers at the European level. As the PM said, EU membership is clearly in Britain’s national interests, and in the interests of jobs, growth and investment in this country.”