British PM denies 'blackmailing' EU with referendum talk
LONDON - Agence France-Presse
AFP PhotoBritish Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday denied trying to "blackmail" his European partners by threatening to pull out of the EU if he did not get his way on repatriating powers.
Ahead of a long-awaited speech next week in which he is expected to propose a referendum after the 2015 election on the conditions of Britain's membership, Cameron added that he was "confident" of getting the changes he wanted.
"I'm not blackmailing anybody," Cameron said in an interview with BBC radio.
"Britain, just like every other European country, has a perfect right to say we are members of this club, we are prominent members, we pay a large bill for being a member of this club.
"We are perfectly entitled to argue that it needs to change." Cameron's close ally and finance minister, George Osborne, told a German newspaper last week that "for us to stay in the European Union, the EU must change", prompting a German lawmaker to accuse Britain of blackmail.
Cameron stressed that he still supported Britain's membership of the 27-nation bloc.
"I don't think it's in our interests to leave the European Union," he said.
"Would Britain collapse if we left the European Union? No, of course not. We could choose a different path. The question is, what is in our national interest?" But he said he was "not happy" with the relationship and said the British public were also "increasingly fed up that they've been left out of this debate".
He said he wanted a "fresh settlement, and then fresh consent for that settlement".
But a straight in-out referendum asking whether Britons wanted to remain in the EU was a "false choice", Cameron said.
"Right now, there are a lot of people who say, I would like to be in Europe but I'm not happy with every aspect of the relationship so I want it changed. That is my view," he said.
"So I think an in-out referendum today is a false choice." Cameron deflected a question about whether an in-out referendum was possible further down the line.
"I'm confident we will get the changes that we want. We will have a new settlement and then we'll put that to the British people in a very straightforward way," he said.
Cameron's remarks came after one of his cabinet ministers, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, warned Britain should not stay in the EU at any cost.
"If it's in our clear national interest that we should remain in the European Union -- and I sincerely hope that is the case -- then we should stay, but we shouldn't stay at any price," he told the BBC late Sunday.