British Prime Minister David Cameron prepared a speech that put 40 years of integration with the continent on the line by raising the specter of a U.K. exit from the European Union.
While Cameron postponed the speech in Amsterdam due to the hostage crisis in Algeria, his office earlier released excerpts for publication before the scheduled address today.
“More of the same” won’t be enough to guarantee the EU’s future due to Britons’ dismay at a lack of consent in their relationship with the 27-nation bloc, Cameron planned to say, according to the text.
“There is a gap between the EU and its citizens which has grown dramatically in recent years and which represents a lack of democratic accountability and consent that is, yes, felt particularly acutely in Britain,” he was due to say. “The danger is that Europe will fail and the British people will drift towards the exit.”
Cameron is responding to pressure from lawmakers in his Conservative Party for looser ties with the EU or an outright departure from the political union. While giving voice to his base’s discontent and holding out the prospect of a popular vote on renegotiated membership terms, Cameron has already received pushback from European counterparts.
Cameron, who briefed U.S. President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande on his speech yesterday, has said that he didn’t expect Europe to be a significant issue in his first term. Obama told Cameron “the United States values a strong U.K. in a strong European Union,” according to a White House readout of the call between the two leaders.
The decision to push for a renegotiation has been driven by lawmakers in Cameron’s party, who in 2011 defied him in record numbers to vote for a referendum on leaving the EU.
“European interests should always be the most important,” EU President Herman Van Rompuy said yesterday. “The European Union doesn’t just mean taking account of national concerns.”
Cameron planned to say that the deepening integration of the 17 euro countries, which don’t include Britain, and the demands of global competition raise “fundamental questions” about the nature of the U.K.’s relationship with the EU.
“People are increasingly frustrated that decisions taken further and further away from them mean their living standards are slashed through enforced austerity or their taxes are used to bail out governments on the other side of the continent,” he was due to say.
Britain has contributed 3.25 billion pounds ($5.2 billion) in the form of a loan for Ireland to 486 billion euros ($649 billion) of bailout commitments to four euro-area countries from the EU and the International Monetary Fund.
Both Cameron’s Liberal Democrat coalition partners and the opposition Labour Party oppose his push to loosen ties with Europe, saying he risks investor confidence and London’s role as a financial center.
“For many foreign investors one of Britain’s attractions is as a gateway to a market of 500 million people,” Ed Balls, economy spokesman for Labour, wrote in an article on the Guardian newspaper’s website. “At a time when securing jobs and growth must be the priority in Europe and when the future shape of the euro zone remains so uncertain, announcing now a referendum that will raise fears that Britain could leave the EU cannot be in our national interest.”
Forty-two percent of the electorate say they would vote to leave the EU in a referendum compared with 36 percent who said they would back staying in, according to a YouGov Plc poll conducted online on Jan. 10 and 11. A YouGov poll in November found 51 percent favoring an exit.
The speech has yet to be rescheduled.