Britain will move to exit the EU if significant reforms are not made to the structure of the union, said UK Prime Minister David Cameron. He warned the organization was heading for a degree of integration “outside the UK’s comfort zone.”
Cameron stressed the solution was to hold an “in-out referendum” on Britain’s membership of the body, but only after the EU had had a chance to remedy the financial crisis.
“I don’t believe that to make a decision at this moment is the right way forward, either for Britain or for Europe as a whole,” said Cameron, assuring that he would hold the referendum in 2017 should he be re-elected in 2015.
“I say to the British people: this will be your decision. And when that choice comes, you will have an important choice to make about our country’s destiny,” stated the British Prime Minister. He added that “if we don’t address these challenges, the danger is that Europe will fail and the British people will drift towards the exit.”
The PM stressed there was widespread frustration with a “rigid and cumbersome” union that has cut living standards and enforced austerity throughout the continent. Cameron described an ever-widening gap between the citizens of Europe and an uncompromising leadership.
British support for the EU is currently “wafer-thin,” informed Cameron.
‘Fundamental, far-reaching change’
Championing a “practical” approach to EU policy, Cameron stated that competitiveness should lie at the heart of the EU in a push for “leaner, less bureaucratic union.”
Flexibility would also be key in the prime minister’s proposed reforms to the EU, encompassing the diversity of all its members.
Criticizing a “one size fits all policy,” he said that Britain should only be part of an organization that reflect its best interests.
“Over the coming weeks, months and years, I will not rest until this debate is won,” concluded Cameron.
Following the speech, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said leaving the EU would be dangerous for the UK.
“You join the [football] club, but once you are in you can’t say that you want to play rugby,” said Fabius, dismissing Cameron’s reform ideas as a push for “Europe à la carte.”
Furthermore, German Chancellor Merkel said Europe was prepared to negotiate with Britain, but would not compromise on the interests of the Union.
Ex Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt attacked Cameron’s speech, saying that it was indicative of his lack of knowledge of the EU.
“His speech was full of inconsistencies, displaying a degree of ignorance about how the EU works,” said Verhofstadt, stressing that debating the UK’s membership was “playing with fire.”
The US also entered into the EU membership debate. The White House said President Obama had called on Cameron to emphasize how Washington “values a strong UK in a strong European Union.”
The opposition leader Ed Miliband slammed Cameron prior to the speech, saying his words would “define him as a weak prime minister, being driven by his party, not by the national economic interest.”
Miliband accused Prime Minister Cameron in a parliamentary debate of being “afraid” of his own MPs. He claimed Cameron was not motivated by the interests of the UK and was in fact acting at the behest of fellow party members.
Miliband said Cameron was taking a “huge gamble” on the economy and could put Britain through “years of uncertainty.”
“He is running scared of UKIP [the anti-EU UK Independence Party], he has given in to his party and he can’t deliver for Britain.”
Conservative MP David Campbell Bannerman told RT that the prime minister’s words reflected the view of the British electorate and the general population.
“What’s significant about today is that the British people will get a vote, we haven’t had a vote since 1975 and that is a great step forward,”
Bannerman told RT. He added that the timing of the referendum in 2017 was pragmatic as it gives the union time to adopt the proposed changes.
The MP described Cameron’s stance as a ‘trendsetter’, as many other countries in Europe wanted more flexibility within the union.
“A lot of countries like the Czech Republic, the Dutch and the Danish want more flexibility within the EU and I think this is a trendsetter and I think it’s right of the prime minister to hold out for this to get a better Europe,” he said.