Cameron promises Britons vote on EU exit

Wed Jan 23, 2013 3:06pm EST
 

By Andrew Osborn and Peter Griffiths

LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister David Cameron promised Britons a vote on quitting the European Union, rattling London's biggest allies and some investors by raising the prospect of uncertainty and upheaval.

Cameron announced on Wednesday that the referendum would be held by the end of 2017 - provided he wins a second term - and said that while Britain did not want to retreat from the world, public disillusionment with the bloc was at "an all-time high".

"It is time for the British people to have their say. It is time for us to settle this question about Britain and Europe," Cameron said in a speech, adding that his Conservative party would campaign for the 2015 parliamentary election on a promise to renegotiate the terms of Britain's EU membership.

"When we have negotiated that new settlement, we will give the British people a referendum with a very simple in or out choice to stay in the European Union on these new terms; or come out altogether. It will be an in-out referendum."

A referendum would mark the second time British voters have had a direct say on the issue. In 1975, they decided by a wide margin to stay in, two years after the country had joined.

Most recent opinion polls have shown a slim majority would vote to leave amid bitter disenchantment, fanned by a hostile press, about the EU's perceived influence on the British way of life. However, a poll this week showed a majority for staying.

Cameron's position is fraught with uncertainty. He must come from behind to win the next election, secure support from the EU's 26 other states for a new British role, and hope those countries can persuade their voters to back the changes.

He also avoided saying exactly what he would do if he failed to win concessions in Europe, as many believe is likely.   Continued...

 
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron delivers a speech on the European Union and Britain's role within it, in central London January 23, 2013. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett