Brexit if EU reform bid fails: Cameron

British stallholders dressed as opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn on the first day of the annual Conservative Party conference in Manchester, north-west England, yesterday. They were mocking the Labour Party's proposal of quantitative easi
British stallholders dressed as opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn on the first day of the annual Conservative Party conference in Manchester, north-west England, yesterday. They were mocking the Labour Party's proposal of quantitative easing by handing out free "money".PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

He pledges to support exit if negotiations fail amid eurosceptics' call to spell out reforms

LONDON • Prime Minister David Cameron has reiterated his promise to support Britain's exit from the European Union if he does not get the reforms he is pushing for.

"I have always said if I don't get what I want, I will rule nothing out," Mr Cameron told BBC yesterday, as his Conservative Party's annual conference opened in Manchester, north-west England.

"But I am confident we will get what we want," he added.

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You should not be able to come and work here and get British levels of child benefits. These are things I am going to fix.

BRITISH PRIME MINISTER DAVID CAMERON, on EU workers' benefits

While gaining an unexpected majority in May's election has strengthened Mr Cameron's hand, he still faces opposition from within Tory ranks on Britain's membership in the EU, an issue that has divided the party for decades.

The issue contributed to the downfall of both Mrs Margaret Thatcher and Mr John Major, the last two Conservative prime ministers.

Mr Cameron - who is seeking to keep Britain in the bloc in a referendum he has promised to hold by the end of 2017 - is now facing calls from eurosceptic backbenchers to spell out exactly which reforms he is seeking to secure in negotiations with fellow EU leaders.

"There is nothing I am going to bring back that will satisfy these people," Mr Cameron said, when asked how he can placate the party's anti-European members.

However, he added that it will be the government's "collective responsibility" to back him when negotiations have been completed.

The four-day conference will feature more than 20 fringe meetings dealing with the EU vote.

Research from the London-based Open Europe think-tank published last Friday showed that as many as one in five of Mr Cameron's lawmakers is likely to vote to leave the EU.

Out of 330 Conservative lawmakers, 69 are either "firmly out" or "out leaning", while 203 could vote either way. Only 14 are firmly for staying in the EU, with 44 leaning towards staying in.

Mr Iain Duncan Smith, a former Conservative leader and now a senior Cabinet minister in charge of work and pensions, said the twin crises of Greece and European migration has hit the EU like an "out of control bulldozer".

However, he added that this can work in Britain's favour by prompting EU leaders to think more fundamentally about the right to free movement across the 28- nation bloc.

Mr Cameron, who has yet to give a detailed list of issues he is seeking to renegotiate, reiterated his commitment to restricting access to British benefits for EU workers.

"You should not be able to come and work here, and get British levels of child benefits," he said. "These are things I am going to fix."

Most opinion polls show that a majority of Britons back staying in the EU, but the gap with those wanting to leave has narrowed in recent months.

The other issue underlying the conference is who will succeed Mr Cameron ahead of the next general election in 2020, after the Prime Minister said that he will not try for a third mandate.

"It is obvious that (finance minister) George Osborne is at the moment in pole position... but things can change quite quickly," said Mr Tim Bale, a professor of political science at Queen Mary University in London.

Observers said that it will be between Mr Osborne and London Mayor Boris Johnson, even if other names have been put forward, like Home Secretary Theresa May and Business Minister Sajid Javid.

"Boris Johnson is more popular with the public but George Osborne is more popular with the Conservative Party membership and it is ultimately the membership who decides who the next leader is," said Mr Duncan O'Leary, research director at Demos, a think-tank.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 05, 2015, with the headline 'Brexit if EU reform bid fails: Cameron'. Print Edition | Subscribe