UK press weighs up Cameron's EU gamble

2013-01-24 10:00
British Prime Minister David Cameron delivers a speech on 'the future of the European Union and Britain's role within it', in London. (Ben Stansall, AFP)

British Prime Minister David Cameron delivers a speech on 'the future of the European Union and Britain's role within it', in London. (Ben Stansall, AFP)

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London - The British press on Thursday broadly welcomed Prime Minister David Cameron's promise of a referendum on EU membership, but warned that the premier had taken a huge political gamble.

Right-leaning newspapers hailed Wednesday's pledge as a deft political move that would pacify the eurosceptic wing of Cameron's Conservative party, which has long been bitterly divided over Britain's relationship with the European Union. "Yes, Prime Minister!" read the jubilant headline of the Daily Mail tabloid, adding: "Now go on and finish the job, Mr Cameron."

The Telegraph said it was "an audacious and momentous step, and one deserving of the highest praise".

In Wednesday's long-awaited speech, Cameron vowed to hold a referendum by the end of 2017 giving voters the choice of staying in or leaving the EU if the Conservatives win the next election in 2015.

Cameron said he wanted to renegotiate the terms of Britain's EU membership before putting the new agreement to a vote, sparking criticism from European partners who accused Britain of trying to pick and choose its own rules.

But The Times insisted that "this was a speech with Europe’s interests at heart, not only Britain's".

Endorsed by business leaders

"Mr Cameron has not caused a problem, but elucidated one," the broadsheet said in an editorial. "The rest of Europe must join him in solving it."

The newspaper carried a letter from 56 business leaders endorsing Cameron's position, including the chief executive of the London Stock Exchange and the chairman of the Standard Chartered bank.

"This is a European policy that will be good for business and good for jobs in Britain," the signatories said, dismissing warnings from other prominent British business leaders that the looming referendum will create uncertainty.

But the newspaper joined the Financial Times and Guardian in characterising the proposal as a gamble at a time when the 27-member bloc is still reeling from the crisis in the eurozone.

The Guardian warned that Cameron "should not underestimate the hostile fury he will draw the UK's way by gratuitously instigating a fresh crisis when the existing one is exhausting enough".

The Sun tabloid praised the decision to give the British people a say on whether they want to stay in the EU, but it added that there were several "what ifs" attached to Cameron's promise.

Political pressure

"What if he’s no longer PM come May 2015?" it asked.

The left-leaning Independent was the least enthusiastic of Britain's newspapers, telling Cameron that "his proposals collapse under the weight of their own contradictions".

"The dangers attendant upon such a move can hardly be overstated and the attempts to dress it up as firm leadership - confronting an unavoidable issue so as better to shape the debate - are far from convincing," the paper's editorial said.

"Indeed, Mr Cameron has allowed his own political pressures to cloud his judgement of Britain's best interests."

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