Prime Minister David Cameron cut short a trip to meet European Union leaders, in which he intended to press his case for a more flexible EU, following the death of Margaret Thatcher.
Cameron was in Spain with his counterpart, Mariano Rajoy, when news broke of the former Conservative prime minister’s death. He canceled engagements in Paris this evening with President Francois Hollande, the second leg of a trip to seek the alliances he needs to renegotiate Britain’s status within the 27-member bloc. A trip to Germany to meet Chancellor Angela Merkel later this week has not been canceled.
Since his January announcement that, if re-elected in 2015, he’ll call a referendum on British membership of the EU by the end of 2017, Cameron has earned rebukes from across Europe and within his own coalition for creating greater uncertainty at a time of economic turmoil. In an interview with European journalists published today, he defended his position.
“The fact that parties and governments year after year promised referendums, didn’t hold referendums when they could have done, that damaged consent for Britain’s membership of the EU and there’s no good wishing that away,” Cameron said before the Madrid visit. “The greatest uncertainty would be to have this problem and to wish it didn’t exist. Much better to have a plan for how we make changes to the EU, how we make changes to Britain’s membership, how we secure Britain’s membership of a reformed EU and we settle this issue. I have a plan.”
It’s not the first time Cameron’s EU diplomacy efforts have been hit by setbacks. He had sought to make his keynote speech setting out the referendum plan in The Hague in the Netherlands in January before being forced to postpone it because of a hostage crisis in Algeria. He gave the address in London five days later.
Thatcher, much of whose premiership was also dominated by the issue of U.K. integration with Europe, was in Paris for a conference on European security when she learnt that a 1990 leadership challenge had not yet unseated her, but that she didn’t have enough support to prevent a further ballot. She resigned soon afterward.