[GARMISCH] David Cameron gave his strongest signal yet that he'll expect ministers in his government to campaign to stay in the European Union when he's completed his renegotiation of Britain's terms of membership of the bloc.
The Conservative prime minister has faced calls from members of Parliament to adopt the same stance taken by Harold Wilson, who led the Labour government that called the only previous referendum on Europe in 1975. Wilson, faced with a split cabinet, allowed ministers to campaign on either side for staying in or leaving the then European Economic Community.
"The government isn't neutral in this," Mr Cameron told reporters Sunday at the Group of Seven summit at Schloss Elmau, Germany. "We have a clear view; renegotiate, get a deal that is in Britain's interest and then recommend that Britain stays in. If you want to be part of the government, you have to take the view that we are engaged in an exercise of renegotiation, have a referendum and that will lead to a successful outcome." By pushing his Conservative Party to support EU membership, Mr Cameron risks alienating those in it who are implacably opposed to staying in Europe. He may also struggle to hold this line: It was under pressure from his own side that he announced the referendum in 2013.
Before Mr Cameron spoke, a new group, Conservatives for Britain, said it was backed by more than 50 lawmakers who support taking Britain out of the EU. Steve Baker, one of the group's chairmen, wrote in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper that its members want the UK Parliament to be able to set the level of contributions to the EU, to have the power to opt out of business regulation, to limit migration within the EU and negotiate trade treaties.
"We wish David Cameron every success," Mr Baker said. "But, unless senior EU officials awake to the possibility that one of the EU's largest members is serious about a fundamental change in our relationship, our recommendation to British voters seems likely to be exit." Mr Cameron refused to be drawn on what he hopes to achieve from his renegotiation. "I'm not giving running commentaries," he said. "I'm not going to say it is going to look like this or that. I'm going to be very unhelpful. At the end, when I've got what I want, I'll tell you about it." He also refused to be drawn on the timing of the vote, which he has promised will come before the end of 2017. Still, he rejected the advice of the Electoral Commission that it shouldn't be held on the same day as other elections. Calling it for May 5 next year would mean it coincides with voting for legislatures in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and the mayor of London.
"I think the British public is perfectly capable of going to a polling booth and making two important decisions rather than just one; I think the evidence has shown that," Mr Cameron said. "But what will determine the timing of the referendum is not the timing of other elections, it is the outcome of the negotiation."