Prime Minister David Cameron said on Wednesday he will offer British citizens a vote on whether to leave the European Union if his party wins the next election, a move which could trigger alarm among fellow member states.
He acknowledged that public disillusionment with the EU is “at an all-time high”, using a long-awaited speech in central London to say the terms of Britain’s membership in the bloc should be revised and its citizens should have a say.
Cameron proposed that his Conservative Party renegotiate UK’s relationship with the EU if it wins the next general election, expected in 2015. “Once that new settlement has been negotiated, we will give the British people a referendum with a very simple in or out choice to stay in the EU on these new terms. Or come out altogether,” Cameron said. “It will be an in-out referendum.”
The stated possibility of a referendum is expected to frustrate other EU states currently focused on stemming the euro zone crisis.
Already, speculation over a vote on leaving the EU has prompted a chorus of concern from around the world, stressing the importance of the UK’s presence in the bloc and warning about the economic consequences of a British exit.
Even the US, which normally stays out of disputes among EU states, waded into the debate. The White House said last week President Barack Obama told Cameron in a phone call that “the US values a strong UK in a strong EU”.
But Cameron stressed that his first priority is renegotiating the EU treaty — not leaving the bloc.
“I say to our European partners, frustrated as some of them no doubt are by Britain’s attitude: work with us on this,” he said.
Much of the criticism directed at Cameron has accused him of trying an “a la carte” approach to membership in the bloc and seeking to play by some but not all of its rules. French foreign minister Laurent Fabius warned on Wednesday that a British withdrawal from the EU would be dangerous for both the bloc and Britain. “Say that Europe is a soccer club. You join this soccer club, but you can’t say you want to play rugby,” he told France-Info radio.
Membership of the EU has given the UK access to the massive joint European market as well as a say in how the region should govern itself and run its financial markets. The country has also benefited from