David Cameron delivers a speech on Britain's role in EU.
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron delivers a speech on the European Union and Britain's role within it, in central London, January 23, 2013. Photo by Reuters
Text size
related tags

Prime Minister David Cameron said Wednesday he will offer British citizens a vote on whether to leave the European Union if his party wins the next election, a move which could trigger alarm among fellow member states.

He acknowledged that public disillusionment with the EU is "at an all-time high," using a long-awaited speech in central London to say that the terms of Britain's membership in the bloc should be revised and the country's citizens should have a say.

Cameron proposed Wednesday that his Conservative Party renegotiate the U.K.'s relationship with the European Union if it wins the next general election, expected in 2015.

“Once that new settlement has been negotiated, we will give the British people a referendum with a very simple in or out choice to stay in the EU on these new terms. Or come out altogether," Cameron said. "It will be an in-out referendum."

The stated possibility of a referendum is expected to further rattle business leaders and frustrate other EU member states currently focused on stemming the euro zone debt crisis.

Already, speculation over a vote on leaving the EU has prompted a chorus of concern from around the world, stressing the importance of the U.K.'s presence in the bloc and warning about the economic consequences of a British exit.

Even the U.S., which normally stays out of disputes among EU states, waded into the debate.

The White House said last week President Barack Obama told Cameron in a phone call that "the United States values a strong U.K. in a strong European Union."

Much of the criticism directed at Cameron has accused him of trying an "a la carte" approach to membership in the bloc. He insisted Wednesday that a "one size fits all" approach to the EU is misguided.

“Let us not be misled by the fallacy that a deep and workable single market requires everything to be harmonized, to hanker after some unattainable and infinitely level playing field," he said. "Countries are different. They make different choices. We cannot harmonize everything.”