Cameron finally concedes Britain could quit Europe as he prepares to offer referendum on the subjectPrime Minister says UK exit not his 'preference' but was now 'imaginable'He may look to negotiate a looser, trade-based relationship with Brussels
00:16 GMT, 18 December 2012
David Cameron admitted for the first time last night that Britain might leave the European Union.
The Prime Minister said that while a UK exit was not his ‘preference’, it was however ‘imaginable’.
Mr Cameron is preparing to offer a referendum on Britain’s future in Europe in a speech next month.
'Imaginable': David Cameron has admitted for the first time that Britain might leave the European Union
He is expected to say he wants to negotiate a looser, trade-based relationship with Brussels, and then offer voters a chance to accept or reject it.
In the Commons, the Prime Minister was asked by Labour MP Gavin Shuker if he could ever imagine Britain quitting the EU, which it joined in 1973.
The Prime Minister said: ‘That is not a position I support, so I do not spend my time thinking about it.’
But he added: ‘Clearly all futures for Britain are imaginable. We are in charge of our own destiny, we can make our own choices. I believe the choice we should make is to stay in the European Union, to be members of the single market, to maximise our impact in Europe.
‘But where we are unhappy with parts of the relationship we shouldn’t be frightened of standing up and saying so.’
Mr Cameron’s dramatic intervention came after Boris Johnson also suggested Britain could prosper outside the EU.
Queuing up: Mr Cameron's dramatic intervention came after Boris Johnson (left) suggested Britain could prosper outside the EU, while Education Secretary Michael Gove (right) has also previously backed the idea
London’s mayor told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show it would not be the ‘end of the world’ if Britain left the EU though, like the Prime Minister, he said that was not his preferred option.
There have been increasing signs that senior Conservatives are prepared to discuss the possibility of a British exit.
Education Secretary Michael Gove has told colleagues that Britain must be prepared to threaten to quit the EU if it is to have a chance of persuading other countries to agree to a repatriation of powers from Brussels to Westminster.
Responding in the Commons to a question from Labour’s Gisela Stuart, who has suggested Britain should leave the EU, Mr Cameron told MPs he would soon set out his plans: ‘I will be making the speech in the middle of January, and given her recent comments, I think she may like it.’
The Prime Minister said he was opposed only to an ‘immediate’ in/out referendum – leaving open the prospect of such a vote in the future after Britain has attempted to repatriate key powers.
The West may have to arm Syria’s rebel forces to stop them falling under the control of Al Qaeda extremists, Mr Cameron suggested yesterday.
In a statement, the Prime Minister said there was an urgent need to support more moderate elements because of ‘very strong evidence’ that Islamic extremists were flooding into the country.