DAVID Cameron has demanded that Brussels stop “picking the pockets” of the public amid growing pressure for him to reject budget hikes this week.
The Prime Minister said it was “not credible” for the EU to escape the pain of austerity, and insisted officials should accept cuts to its funding.
Speaking at a conference in London yesterday organised by business group the CBI, Mr Cameron said pushing for curbs made him “a good European”.
He added: “I think I have got the people of Europe on my side in arguing that we should stop picking their pockets and spending more and more money through the EU budget, particularly when so many parts of the European budget are not well spent.”
But the PM was facing a battle to hold his party together as sceptics renewed their drive for a fundamental rethink of Britain’s relationship with Europe.
Failure to return from the key summit on Thursday and Friday with a real-terms reduction in the EU budget for 2014-20 is likely to fuel unrest among backbenchers.
Conservative “big beast” David Davis yesterday urged Mr Cameron to hold two referendums on the EU – one within a year to approve a list of powers for the UK to seize back, then another poll to decide if Britain should remain in the EU.
Mr Davis said he was prepared to bet a “large sum of money” on the UK exiting the grouping within a decade if the government failed to secure significant change in its relationship.
In a speech in London, the former shadow home secretary called for all justice and home powers to be repatriated, along with control over immigration and employment legislation.
Meanwhile, London mayor Boris Johnson said Mr Cameron should emulate Margaret Thatcher and stand up to Europe.
Mr Johnson insisted: “It may be impossible to cut the budget, since there is no other country actively proposing this excellent option. But there is no reason at all why EU spending should not be frozen exactly where it is.”
However, veteran Tory pro-European Ken Clarke warned that the UK’s negotiating position over the EU budget was being undermined by the “irresponsible” debate about its continuing membership.
At the CBI conference, the body’s president, Sir Roger Carr, pointed out that Europe accounts for half of British exports, saying: “Whatever the popular appeal may be of withdrawal, businessmen and politicians must keep a bridge firmly in place.
“As countries of Europe bind together in pursuit of salvation, we in the UK must work harder to avoid the risks of isolation.”
Labour leader Ed Miliband told the CBI the Prime Minister had been forced into “negotiations that will not deliver” for the repatriation of swathes of powers.
Instead, the PM should be concentrating on “building alliances” to agree reforms and ensure Britain does not lose out when eurozone countries deepen their ties in a new two-tier Europe, Mr Miliband said.
Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable conceded that there would have to be a referendum on Europe at some point.
But he said now was a “spectacularly bad time” for such a move as Europe and the eurozone were still “in flux”.
Mr Cameron attempted to soothe backbenchers by promising a crackdown on “excessive European legislation”.
“It holds us back. It clogs things up,” he said. “This is about finally getting that ratchet of European legislation to start going in the opposite direction.”