Cameron keeps door open on vote for Britain to exit the EU
British voters could be given a referendum on whether to leave the European Union, Prime Minister David Cameron indicated last night.
Mr Cameron risked the wrath of eurosceptic Conservative backbenchers by dismissing their calls for an immediate in/out poll in a statement to the House of Commons.
But he said that "over time" he hoped to secure a "fresh deal" for Britain in Europe, which would mean finding a way to obtain "the fresh consent of the British people".
And he made clear that he was leaving open the possibility that this could mean a referendum with the option of UK withdrawal on the ballot paper.
In the House of Commons, Mr Cameron described the status quo in Europe as "unacceptable", but told MPs that he did not believe leaving the EU would be best for Britain.
"I do support our membership, I do think the single market is vital for us, and determining the rules of that market matter for us," he said.
But when Tory MP Julian Lewis asked him: "Is it your position that on any referendum on Europe, while you are PM, the option of voting to leave the EU will not appear on the ballot paper?", Mr Cameron replied: "That is not what I've said."
He added: "What I've said is I don't support an immediate in/out referendum. I believe we should show strategic and tactical patience in this and then what I want to see is a fresh settlement that we seek fresh consent for. The right time to determine questions about referendums is after we have that fresh settlement. That is what we should do."
Labour accused Mr Cameron of running a "nudge-nudge, wink-wink" policy on Europe, after he appeared to rule out a referendum last Friday only to revive hopes of a vote in a newspaper article, during what Ed Miliband called his "hokey-cokey weekend".
The Labour leader said Mr Cameron's position on Europe was driven by the desire to appease backbenchers, on the day when former defence secretary Liam Fox became the most senior Tory to call for an immediate renegotiation of Britain's terms of membership followed by a referendum.
Mr Miliband said: "It's nothing to do with the national interest. It's all about managing developments in his own party. A nudge-nudge, wink-wink European policy is neither good for the country nor will it keep his party quiet."
Mr Cameron's position threatens to stoke up tensions with his Liberal Democrat coalition partners, who stressed that he was not speaking for the whole government.
A spokesman for deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: "When talking about a referendum on Europe, David Cameron was setting out his views as Conservative Party leader. This is not agreed coalition government policy."
Dr Fox said that he trusted Mr Cameron to act in the "best interests" of the British people.
Mr Cameron told MPs that in the short term, the priority for Europe was to deal with "instability and chaos" in the eurozone.