As Eurosceptics gear up for a Commons vote on holding a referendum later this year, after winning more than 100,000 signatures for a debate, the prime minister said Britain should focus its attention on reforming the EU.
In an interview on the Andrew Marr Show on BBC1 on Sunday, the same day the Conservative party conference began in Manchester, Cameron indicated a Commons vote would not change the government’s policy – that a referendum would only be held if Britain signed a new treaty which transferred more British sovereignty to the EU.
“It’s not our view that there should be an in/out referendum,” the prime minister said. “I don’t want Britain to leave the European Union.
“I think it’s the wrong answer for Britain. What most people want in this country, I believe, is not actually to leave the European Union, but to reform the European Union and make sure the balance of powers between a country like Britain and Europe is better.”
Eurosceptic Tories were disappointed before the election when Cameron abandoned his pledge to hold a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. He said it would have been pointless to hold a referendum once the treaty had entered EU law after it was ratified by all 27 member states.
Cameron was forced to water down his EU policy again in the coalition negotiations when the Tories dropped plans to demand the repatriation of social and employment laws. The Liberal Democrats did agree, however, to allow referendums to be held if powers are transferred to Brussels in the future.
The prime minister is pressing for movement on employment laws after the Lib Dems allowed a little-noticed concession in this area in the coalition agreement. It said: “We will examine the balance of the EU’s existing competences.”
Cameron said: “For the longer term, I’ve been very clear on this programme and said I think we gave too much power to Europe, there are some powers I’d like to get back.”
The prime minister warned that it would be dangerous for Britain if the eurozone broke up. But he said that the EU must not lose sight of the need to reform and to complete the single market.
“The government’s priority right now: sort out the eurozone, get the European economies growing again. Let’s for heaven’s sake get the single market working properly because there’s huge things we could do in Europe to help promote growth in Britain: get a single market in energy, finish the single market in services, open up European markets, make sure that we stop the costs that are being piled on to British business through the European Union, let’s stop all of that,” he said.