Britain's Cameron plays down prospect of referendum on EU membership

LONDON (REUTERS) - British Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday played down the prospect of a near-term referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union, ahead of a long-awaited speech on the issue he is expected to deliver next week.

Mr Cameron says he wants Britain to remain in the EU - a major trading partner - but is under intense pressure from his own party and an increasingly eurosceptic public to repatriate powers from Brussels or leave the 27-member bloc altogether.

"If we had an in-out referendum tomorrow, or very shortly, I don't think that would be the right answer for the simple reason that I think we would be giving people a false choice," he told BBC radio.

"Right now I think there are a lot of people who say 'I would like to be in Europe, but I'm not happy with every aspect of the relationship, so I want it changed'. That is my view," he added.

Mr Cameron says he plans to renegotiate Britain's ties with the EU and seek the public's fresh consent for the new deal, telling the BBC he believes he has allies in his efforts to repatriate more powers from Brussels.

He also made clear that while he did not think Britain would "collapse" if it left the EU, it would be in Britain's interests to remain in the bloc.

However, some diplomats and EU officials feel Britain risks drifting out of the union, and last week close ally the United States made clear that it wanted Britain to remain a "strong voice" inside the EU.

Also last week, the head of the German parliament's influential EU affairs committee and ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Mr Gunther Krichbaum, said re-negotiating Britain's EU ties would open "Pandora's Box" and risked isolating Britain.

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