Britain downplays talk of EU referendum

5th December 2011, Comments 0 comments

Prime Minister David Cameron's office insisted Monday that any changes to European Union treaties agreed this week to save the euro were unlikely to trigger a referendum in Britain.

As French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel held crunch talks in Paris, speculation mounted in Britain that any changes to EU rules could prompt the government to hold a public vote.

Under legislation passed last year, Britain must hold a referendum on changes in the EU if they involve a significant transfer of power from London to Brussels.

But Cameron's spokesman moved to quash talk of a referendum.

"No-one is proposing a transfer of power from the UK to the EU," he told reporters in London.

"No-one is proposing that. No-one has put that on the table and I don't think it is likely to be on the table."

He added: "What is being talked about is a new set of rules for the eurozone and how those countries that are members of the euro organise themselves on fiscal policy."

But he did not entirely rule out a referendum, however: "We have to wait and see what is put on the table."

Britain is one of 10 from the 27 EU member states that has not adopted the euro.

The issue has threatened to cause a rift in the coalition government, with calls from the right wing of Cameron's Conservatives to hold a referendum while the pro-European Liberal Democrats, the junior partners, are opposed.

"The prime minister has always been clear, if there are substantial changes that affect Britain's position, then he would go for a referendum because that's what we said to the British public we would do," Conservative Work and Pensions Minister Iain Duncan Smith told Sky News television at the weekend.

But Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg insisted a vote was unnecessary, telling BBC television on Sunday: "I don't think there needs to be a referendum on Europe.

"The referendum will only take place if there was an additional surrender of sovereignty from us to the European Union."

At the start of a pivotal week for the euro, Sarkozy and Merkel hope to agree changes to strengthen the bloc's budgetary discipline that can be discussed at an EU summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.

© 2011 AFP

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