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David Cameron: relationship with EU is unacceptable
Amid growing chaos over Downing Street's position on an EU referendum, Mr Cameron reiterated his belief that the current situation is not working.
His comments came hours after he rebuked Cabinet ministers Michael Gove and Philip Hammond for saying that they would vote to leave the EU if a referendum was held tomorrow. By contrast, however, Downing Street said today they welcomed the intervention by Mr Gove and Mr Hammond.
Speaking ahead of talks with President Obama at the White House, Mr Cameron indicated that he could be prepared to support a British exit if his attempts to renegotiate the UK's relationship with the EU fails.
"The problem with the status quo is I don't think that the status quo in the EU is acceptable today," Mr Cameron said.
"I want to change it and having changed it I then want to ask the British people a very simple in/out question."
Mr Cameron was asked if he was "comfortable" with yesterday's interventions by Education Secretary Mr Gove and Defence Secretary Mr Hammond.
"There's not going to be a referendum tomorrow, there is going to be a referendum before the end of 2017," the Prime Minister said.
Mr Cameron said "the whole of the Conservative Party" was signed up to his policy of renegotiating and then staging a national poll.
He also made an appeal for Eurosceptic Tories to focus on winning the general election in two years' time.
"We are the only mainstream party making this offer to the electorate at the next general election," he said.
Over the weekend Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, and Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, said they would vote for Britain to leave the EU if a referendum was to take place today.
Speaking earlier this morning, David Cameron appeared to criticise them for answering "hypothetical" questions about Britain's membership of the European Union.
However, Downing Street's policy appeared to be confused when the Prime Minister's official spokesman said afterwards he welcomed the debate ahead of a meeting with President Obama.
Asked if he was frustrated at having to "slap down" two cabinet ministers for their comments, his spokesman said: "The Prime Minister's view is that the more we talk about Europe the more we focus in on his very clear commitment to hold an in out referendum in 2017 if he is Prime Minister at that time."
He declined to say whether the Prime Minister has been informed about his ministers' comments in advance. "The Prime Minister speaks with his cabinet ministers on a regular basis," he said.
Mr Cameron declined to say how he would vote in the event of a referendum tomorrow.
He said: "What matters is making sure that we do everything we can to reform the EU, make it more flexible, more open, more competitive and improve Britain's relations with the EU, change those relations, so that when we have the referendum before the end of 2017 we give the British public a real choice, a proper choice."
In recent days Tory grandees including Lord Lawson, Lord Lamont and Michael Portillo have all called for Mr Cameron to lead the UK out of the EU.
The Prime Minister attacked those former ministers, warning that their desire to "throw in the towel" before negotiations have even started is a "strange opinion".
Tory backbenchers critical of European integration have engineered a Commons vote this week over an EU referendum.
The MPs have tabled an amendment criticising the failure of the Queen's Speech to include a bill on a future referendum.
Mr Cameron is giving backbenchers a free vote on the issue but has told ministers they should abstain, effectively allowing them to openly disapprove of the Government's legislative agenda in the Commons.
The Prime Minister wants to try and renegotiate the UK's relationship with Europe before holding an in/out referendum if the Conservatives win an overall majority at the next election.
Speaking while travelling to the United States, Mr Cameron claimed that "every" Conservative Cabinet minister believes that he will be able to claw back powers from Europe.
"Every Conservative Cabinet minister is confident that we will be able to deliver those changes," Mr Cameron said. "So that's what we are pushing towards. There is only one way to get this in/out referendum and that is to make sure we deliver a Conservative victory in the next election."
The Prime Minister added: "What all Conservative Cabinet ministers agree is that we should be spending the next period improving the EU and improving our relations with the EU and then putting that choice to the British public in a referendum. That is our policy, it is the right thing to do and I think we're all confident of our success."
However, he attacked Mr Portillo, the former Defence Secretary, who last week called for Mr Cameron to leave the EU and alleged that his promise to hold an in/out referendum is an "insincere ploy".
"I have great respect for Michael Portillo, I remember working as his special adviser many years ago," Mr Cameron said. "But the point I'd make to these people is you shouldn't give up before a negotiation has started - [that] seems to be an extraordinary way to go about things."
"The idea of throwing in the towel before the negotiation has even started I think is a very strange opinion."
[Source: By Peter Dominiczak in Washington, and Steven Swinford, The Telegraph, London, 13May13]
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|This document has been published on 15May13 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.|