British Prime Minister David Cameron insisted yesterday that he had been misunderstood over Europe and that comments he had made suggesting ministers planning to urge Britons to vote to leave the EU would have to quit had been "misinterpreted".
Mr Cameron has promised to renegotiate Britain's EU ties before holding a referendum on EU membership. But he was the target of ridicule at the hands of British newspapers yesterday as they accused him of performing an embarrassing U-turn on the issue.
"It's clear to me that what I said was misinterpreted," Mr Cameron told a news conference in Germany after the conclusion of a summit of the Group of Seven Industrial nations (G7).
He insisted that his warning to ministers applied only to the EU renegotiation period, and declined to say whether ministers would be allowed a "free vote" in the referendum itself, something he appeared to have ruled out just a day earlier.
The leaders of the G7 were also desperately searching for a common stance on climate change on the second and final day of their summit in southeastern Germany.
But German Chancellor Angela Merkel also took the opportunity to warn that time is running out for a deal to keep Greece in the eurozone.
Speaking after the G7 summit, she said Europe would show solidarity but only if Greece "makes proposals and implements reforms".
Earlier, Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said it was time to stop finger-pointing and find an agreement.
Other topics on the agenda at the G7 summit were climate change, countering extremism and the war in Ukraine.
It was held at the picturesque Schloss Elmau hotel in the Bavarian Alps and was attended by the leaders of the US, UK, Japan, France, Canada and Italy.
Ms Merkel, who hosted the event, said the Greek crisis had been a central part of discussions. She reiterated her desire for Greece to remain part of the eurozone, but said: "There isn't much time left. Everyone is working intensively. Every day counts now."
The European Commission is asking for further reforms to Greece's economy, including tax increases and cuts in civil servants' salaries and pensions, before the next €7.2bn tranche of bailout money can be released.
But Greece has robustly rejected these proposals without some form of debt restructuring agreement in return.
At the weekend, Mr Varoufakis was quoted as saying the Commission's latest demands were "borderline insulting".
Ms Merkel was also working on forging some kind of agreement on eventually moving away from the use of carbon-based fossil fuels and an endorsement of goals to limit the long-term rise in global temperatures and provide financing to help countries deal with the impact of climate change. Her idea is to forge a united front in advance of a major conference on climate change in Paris later this year.
Leaders at the annual meeting also held discussions on combating terrorism. The G-7 consists of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States.
Ms Merkel was adamant that the G7 has agreed that sanctions against Russia must remain in place until a cease-fire deal for eastern Ukraine is fully respected. Ms Merkel said that the G7 was ready to step up the sanctions later if the situation called for it.
The EU and the United States have imposed economic sanctions on Russia over its conflict with Ukraine.
A ceasefire agreement reached in Minsk has been shaky, with the heaviest fighting in months breaking out in recent days between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces.
Russia said it saw nothing new in the comments by G7 leaders.
Britain's Mr Cameron and European Council President Donald Tusk both said they hoped the G7 would signal a united front on sanctions towards Russia.
"Yes, we paid attention to the latest declarations on sanctions. These are not new theses," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. "We also drew attention to the fact that among the participants of this meeting there are nuances in their approaches. Some talk about the need for dialogue with Russia and the impossibility of solving serious problems without this dialogue, so we continue watching closely."