VOTERS will be offered a “real choice” on Britain’s future relations with the European Union, David Cameron has said, ahead of a keynote speech on the issue this month.
The Prime Minister refused to be drawn on how he would respond to Eurosceptic back-bench Tory demands for an in-out referendum on future membership.
But he repeated his insistence that Britain was better off remaining within a reformed EU, rather than pulling out and losing the ability to influence single-market rules.
Mr Cameron is expected to use his long-delayed speech to set out proposals to negotiate the return of powers from Brussels and allow a public vote.
Asked in a radio interview if that could involve the option of withdrawal, he said: “You will have to wait for the speech.
“But it will demonstrate very clearly that it is the Conservative Party at the next election that will be offering people a real change in terms of Europe and a real choice about that change.”
Any renegotiation would be “tough”, he said, but it was not in the UK’s interests to withdraw and no longer be “round the table writing the rules”. He went on: “I don’t think it’s right to aim for a status like Norway or Switzerland, where basically you have to obey all the rules of the single market but you don’t have a say over what they are.”
European Council president Herman Van Rompuy has warned attempts to claw back powers from Brussels would put the single market at risk. Cherry-picking policies would see the EU “unravel”, he suggested.
But Mr Cameron said it was “perfectly legitimate” to seek to use the EU’s need to reform to reshape Britain’s membership.
The Prime Minister has faced criticism from his Liberal Democrat deputy Nick Clegg, who has called for Britain to have the confidence to take the lead in Europe. Mr Clegg said talk of a referendum was premature and no more than “political shadow boxing”.
Mr Cameron said of his coalition partners: “They do not really want to change any aspect of our relationship with Europe.
“The coalition is, I think, performing very well, but of course there are some areas where we do not agree, and Europe is one of those.”
In the interview, Mr Cameron played down the significance of his attendance at a pre-Christmas party, where he was reported to have had an “intense” conversation with Rebekah Brooks.
Asked about the encounter with the ex-News International chief executive, he said: “My wife’s cousin had a party and I went. It’s not a big deal.”
UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage said Mr Cameron was “begging at the top table” in Brussels for small changes.
“After so many broken promises, so many ‘cast-iron guarantees’, can anybody honestly believe that he will be telling the truth this time? The simple fact is that he wants us to stay in the European Union, no matter how it is configured,” Mr Farage said.