Cameron Targeting U.K. Deal on EU in February Before Referendum

  • British PM tells BBC that `prize is closer than it was'
  • Cameron says substance matters more than timing on `Brexit'

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Prime Minister David Cameron said he is aiming to reach a deal on the U.K.’s membership in the European Union next month, paving the way for a national vote on whether to withdraw from the bloc soon after.

“I’m hopeful of a deal in February and if we do that we could go on and hold the referendum,” Cameron told the BBC’s “Andrew Marr Show” on Sunday. “The prize is closer than it was and I’m going to work around the clock to get that done.”

David Cameron

Photographer: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Having pledged to hold an in-or-out vote on so-called Brexit by the end of 2017, Cameron’s comments signal he may call a summer poll with the chance it could slip to September or later if negotiations falter. The British government wants the EU to cut its bureaucracy and trade barriers, to differentiate between rules for countries inside and outside the euro area and to limit benefits for immigrants.

“There is a huge prize for Britain,” Cameron said. “If we can deal with the things that drive us up the wall about Europe, we can get the best of both worlds. It’s a massive prize for Britain if we can get this right.”

Cameron said he is willing to wait for the right terms. “To me, the substance matters much more than the timing,” he said. “If I can’t get the right deal in February, I’ll wait and I’ll keep going.”

‘Best Answer’

He reiterated that members of his Cabinet would be free to take whichever side they wanted once the renegotiation is completed, although he suggested his personal preference is to lead the campaign to remain within an updated bloc. He said he will stay in office even if the public does back “Brexit.”

“The best answer for Britain is staying in a reformed European Union,” he said. “I want to have as many people supporting the side I’m on, whichever side that is.”

Some government officials are annoyed that those against EU membership are being muzzled by the government, the Sunday Telegraph reported. Two-thirds of Conservative members of parliament support leaving the bloc, the Observer said, citing officials from Cameron’s ruling party.

Hiring, Wages

“The position of the whole government is we should renegotiate, hold a referendum and that the best outcome would be to keep Britain in a reformed European Union,” Cameron said.

Days after U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne warned the U.K. economy faces a “cocktail of risks,” Cameron said “it’s right to warn of the difficulties we face in the world” such as slowing Chinese growth and Middle East tensions, but that the British enjoyed a “strong economy” with “good prospects” as hiring and wages accelerate.

Asked about the risk of excessive borrowing in the U.K. and the chance of asset bubbles, Cameron said the government needed to lower its own borrowing and support the economy, and that consumers and companies should listen to the central bank.

“These sorts of concerns are why we gave the Bank of England the proper independence and ability to sort of call time, as it were, on excessive levels of borrowing,” he said “They have rightly taken some steps already.”