British Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged that Britons will be given a choice to say whether they want the country to stay in or quit the European Union if the Conservatives are re-elected.
A referendum would be held between the early part of the next Parliament and the end of 2017 for this purpose, Cameron told business leaders at the Bloomberg headquarters in central London on Wednesday.
But he said now is not the right time to hold an in/out referendum when Europe is facing an uncertain future following the Eurozone crisis.
The long-awaited speech is sen as the biggest gamble of his premiership, which some of his party members termed as an "unnecessary gamble."
"Negotiating a new settlement with our European partners in the next Parliament" will be a key item in the Conservative party's manifesto for the 2015 general elections, according to Cameron.
"And when we have negotiated that new settlement, we will give the British people a referendum with a very simple in or out choice to stay in the EU on these new terms; or come out altogether. It will be an in/out referendum" that will settle the European issue in Britain's politics once and for all, Cameron said.
At the same time, the British leader made it clear that he is not for Britain to exit the 27-nation-bloc, and that he would campaign with "all my heart and soul" to stay in the EU if he secures a deal to claw back powers from Brussels.
The legislation that Cameron proposed calls for rules on working hours, crime, environment and social policy matters to be decided by Britain, rather than ceding them to EU.
He warned that public disillusionment with the EU is "at an all time high," and called for more competitive, more flexible, fairer, more democratically accountable European bloc that is willing to return powers to member-states.
Britain's continued involvement in the European Union is likely to be a hot issue in the national election due in 2015. Besides, it has bitterly divided the Conservative Party for decades. Nevertheless, Cameron wants Britain to remain in the EU, with its role within the bloc focusing more on trade links rather than regulations.
First promised in July last year, Cameron's speech was repeatedly delayed since, including the last time it was scheduled for on Friday in the Netherlands. It was postponed due to the Algerian hostage crisis.
Leader of the Opposition Labor party, Ed Miliband, called Cameron "a weak Prime Minister, being driven by his party, not by the national economic interest," and recalled Cameron successfully defeating in October 2011 an attempt seeking a referendum on the country's continuance in European Union despite a rebellion by a sizable chunk of MPs from his own Party.
UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage commended Cameron for launching a European debate on the British exit, an issue his party has been campaigning for years.
by RTT Staff Writer
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