, LONDON, United Kingdom, Nov 10 – Prime Minister David Cameron warned Tuesday that Britain could leave the EU if it does not get the reforms it wants before a “once-in-a-generation” referendum to settle its troubled relationship with Europe.
In a major speech outlining Britain’s demands for change following pressure from EU leaders, Cameron warned he was ready to “think again” about Britain’s membership if he could not strike a deal with Brussels and the bloc’s 27 other member states.
But in a sign of the British premier’s looming tussle, the European Commission immediately responded, saying it deemed parts of Cameron’s EU renegotiation objectives “highly problematic”.
Cameron’s comments came as he sends a long-awaited letter to EU president Donald Tusk laying out Britain’s shopping list for change to avert a “Brexit” in a vote due to be held by 2017 at the latest.
“The referendum… will be a once-in-a-generation choice,” Cameron said. “This is a huge decision for our country – perhaps the biggest we’ll make in our lifetime.”
He said he had “every confidence” of securing an agreement but added that he would not rule out campaigning for a “Brexit”.
“If we can’t reach an agreement and if Britain’s concerns were to be met with a deaf ear, which I do not believe will happen, then we will have to think again about whether this European Union is right for us,” he said. “I rule nothing out.”
The speech came nearly three years after Cameron first pledged a referendum on whether Britain should remain in the EU under pressure from eurosceptics in his Conservative Party and the anti-European Union UK Independence Party.
Britain’s turbulent ties with Brussels go back far further than the Cameron era, though.
The country joined what was then the European Economic Community in 1973 but has remained removed from the heart of Europe under successive prime ministers.
One of Cameron’s Conservative predecessors, Margaret Thatcher, became an icon for eurosceptics in 1984 by securing an annual budget rebate for Britain, banging the table and demanding: “I want my money back”.
Britain also notably stayed out of the euro when it was launched in 2002.