DAVID Cameron has insisted he is “confident” of securing reforms in Brussels and indicated he remains open to staging a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union next year.
The Prime Minister admitted he was “not met with a wall of love” as he met European counterparts for the first time since his general election victory and conceded that securing a deal will take “patience and tenacity”.
At a summit in the Latvian capital Riga, Mr Cameron again refused to ruled out campaigning for Britain to leave the EU if his renegotiation efforts fail and said it would be “good” if the popular vote could be staged earlier than his 2017 deadline.
After meetings with EU leaders yesterday, he said he would not “negotiate in public” but said there had been a “reasonable start” to discussions and the sooner reforms were made, “the better”.
Asked whether he could campaign for the UK to leave the EU, Mr Cameron said: “I’m confident I’ve set out a series of changes which I think address the main concerns which the British people have, that I have about Europe and the way it works and I’m confident of getting those changes.
“I’ve tried to aim at things that are deliverable and doable rather than things that are impossible. But I’ve always said that if I don’t get what I think I need, I rule nothing out.”
British officials believe Mr Cameron’s return to No 10 with a clear mandate for re-negotiation will force EU leaders to face up to the need to finally address the issue seriously.
He will follow up his discussions in the margins of yesterday’s summit – on relations with former Soviet bloc states outside the EU – with a whirlwind tour of European capitals, including Berlin and Paris, to explain his thinking in greater depth.
French president François Hollande warned that it was up to Britain to make the necessary effort if it wanted to push through change. He said: “We ask for nothing. Europe is not concerned by a vote.”
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker – whose appointment Mr Cameron publicly opposed – will visit the Prime Minister at his official country residence at Chequers on Monday.
Mr Cameron said: “We have a very clear government policy, which is the whole government is behind the process of a renegotiation and a referendum based on the fact that we can have a successful outcome and that is what everyone has signed up to and I’m confident of delivering.”
Of his reception in Riga, he said: “On the irritation factor, I’m not going to say I was met with a wall of love when I arrived but there were lots of people who were very excited about our election result and congratulated me and we all said how much we are looking forward to working together.”
Britons are “not happy with the status quo” but Mr Cameron believes “we can transform our relationship with Europe for the better”.
“I do not expect to find agreed solutions straight away,” he added.
He continued: “These talks will require patience and tenacity. But by working together in the right spirit and sticking at it, I believe we can reform the EU and our relationship with it. And then the British people will have the final say.
“They will decide.”