David Cameron told his European Union counterparts he’s prepared to fight a referendum on British membership of the bloc on the basis of unratified changes to its treaties.
The prime minister, who on Thursday started the formal process of renegotiation, will seek legally binding guarantees, his office said. Opponents warned he runs the risk of the changes being rejected by parliaments and voters in other European countries after Britain has already decided whether to stay in the EU.
“I don’t think jam tomorrow will be sufficient any more,” said Nigel Farage, leader of the U.K. Independence Party, which campaigns for withdrawal from the EU. “Why should we believe any future promises?”
Cameron has pledged to win better terms and call a referendum by the end of 2017 on whether Britain should stay in the EU. He wants to protect British sovereignty and ensure fair treatment for countries outside the euro area, while preserving the single market and imposing controls on migration within the bloc.
The reforms will need “full-on” change to the EU’s governing treaties, Cameron said on Jan. 4, a process that can take many months for all 28 member states to ratify.
A dinner for European leaders took an eight-minute break from discussing the Mediterranean migrant crisis to listen to Cameron’s pitch late Thursday. Aides likened the gathering in Brussels to a passing-out parade or graduation ceremony after the frenetic diplomacy since the Tories were re-elected in the May 7 general election.
“People always say to me these things aren’t possible, we will never get them done,” Cameron told reporters as he left in the early hours of the morning. “Once again, we have proved we will get them done. We have started that process and it’s under way.”
Cameron has already talked one-to-one with the leaders of all 27 other member states. Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Roivas told the BBC on Friday morning that “European leaders are open to his ideas.”
Discussion of the technical details of Britain’s demands will now be continued by officials from member states and British diplomat Jonathan Faull, who has worked for the European Commission since 1978, has been appointed by commission president Jean-Claude Juncker to lead a task force on U.K. renegotiation.
EU President Donald Tusk made clear on Thursday that the path will not be smooth for Cameron as he tries to reach a deal that’s acceptable to euro-skeptic members of his Conservative Party.
“There are some British concerns we should consider but only in a way which will be safe for all Europe,” Tusk told reporters ahead of the summit talks. “One thing should be clear from the very beginning -- the fundamental values of the European Union are not for sale and so are non-negotiable.”