PRIME Minister David Cameron said on Monday that Britain should not be willing to stay in the European Union “come what may”, as his main political rival said the promise of a referendum on membership of the bloc was creating uncertainty for businesses.
In a bid to quell dissent among his own lawmakers and win back voters who have defected to the anti-EU UK Independence Party, Cameron has pledged to renegotiate Britain’s EU ties before offering a membership referendum in 2017 if he is re-elected next year.
Opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband told business leaders that those who “flirt” with pulling Britain out of the EU were putting millions of jobs at risk by generating uncertainty.
But, speaking at the same event, Cameron said ignoring that there was a debate over Europe would be the “worst thing to do”.
“Britain’s future in Europe matters to our country and it isn’t working properly for us at the moment, and that is why we need to make changes,” Cameron said.
“Simply standing here and just saying: ‘I will stay in Europe, I will stick with whatever we have, come what may’ … that is not a plan and that won’t work.”
He said the level of investment into Britain under his Conservative-led government showed that the issue was not a deterrent.
Miliband, hoping to cash in on fears among some business groups that a Conservative election win could cost them unfettered access to the EU’s single market of 500 million people, said Britain’s national interest was being damaged.
“Every nod and wink to those who want to leave sends a message to potential investors that we are not open for business, that our country is a dangerous bet,” he said.
“Trying to use exit as a threat has actually weakened our influence in Europe, not strengthened it … I will not be part of it. If I am prime minister I will never risk British businesses, British jobs, British prosperity by playing political games with our membership of the European Union.”
Cameron has in recent months battled other EU countries over the leadership of the EU executive, the Commission, and the EU budget, and has provoked warnings from other EU leaders with talk of trying to limit immigration from within the EU.
Some of Cameron’s Eurosceptic lawmakers were set to rebel on Monday in a vote on whether to continue honouring EU laws allowing the arrest of criminal suspects in other member states.
The government plans to include the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) in a package of EU justice and policing measures it wants to keep after December 1, when it will drop other EU justice rules.
A number of Cameron’s Conservatives believe the EAW to be an unnecessary level of integration. The vote is still set to pass easily, with the backing of Labour and the Liberal Democrats.
Earlier on Monday Cameron rejected a charge from his main political rival that his plan to reshape Britain’s ties with its European Union partners creates uncertainty for businesses,
In an attempt to quell dissent among some of his own lawmakers and win back Eurosceptic voters who have defected to the anti-EU UK Independence Party, Cameron has promised to renegotiate Britain’s EU ties before offering a membership referendum in 2017 if he is re-elected next year.
Cameron said consistency was the best way to encourage investment.
“Sometimes people say to me, by raising issues about Europe and European reform, doesn’t that make life less predictable? I would argue quite the opposite … the worst thing for us to do as a country is to pretend this European debate isn’t happening,” said Cameron.
Cameron said his Conservative-led government had presided over an “extraordinary” period of investment into Britain that showed people were not deterred by the debate over Europe.
“Britain’s future in Europe matters to our country and it isn’t working properly for us at the moment and that is why we need to make changes,” he said. “Simply standing here and just saying ‘I will stay in Europe, I will stay with whatever we have, come what may’, that is not a strategy.”
Miliband, hoping to cash in on unhappiness among some business groups at the possibility that a Conservative election win could see them lose unfettered access to the EU’s single market of 500-million people, will say Britain’s national interest is being damaged.
“We have seen over the last couple of years that trying to use exit as a threat has simply weakened our influence not strengthened it. And I will not be part of it,” he will say, according to extracts of his speech released in advance.
“If I am prime minister I will never risk your businesses, British jobs, or British prosperity by playing political games with our membership of the European Union.”