British Prime Minister David Cameron told international business leaders Thursday the United Kingdom has been drifting away from Europe for years, noting his Conservative government had different ideas on business and immigration within the 28-country bloc. Cameron said in his speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, he will call a referendum on EU membership before the end of 2017 whether or not Brussels can work out a better deal for the U.K.
At the heart of Cameron’s speech was his desire for businesses in the world's fifth largest economy to become involved in calling for a reformed EU, live coverage by the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper showed. “I hope that business and NGOs and other organizations won’t hold back,” Cameron said. “I would say don’t hold back right now, even though the question isn’t settled. I think that if business backs my reforms, if you want to see the competitive Europe, if you want to see the flexible Europe, if you want to see a Europe where you can be in the eurozone and win or out of the eurozone and win, I would argue get out there and support those things. ”
While many in Cameron’s Conservative Party are skeptical of the EU and would support leaving it, he told the audience Britain would not be successful on its own and EU reform with the U.K. remaining as a part of the union “is a prize worth fighting for, a prize worth negotiating for.”
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Cameron, who spent weeks at the end of 2015 in negotiations with fellow European leaders, said if a good deal is presented to the U.K., he would “take it” but warned EU negotiators: “If there isn’t the right deal, I’m not in a hurry. I can hold my referendum any time up until the end of 2017.”
On the divisive topic of refugees coming into Europe from North Africa and the Middle East, Cameron said there needs to be reform on the number coming into Europe and when they are able to obtain welfare, adding immigration pressures in the U.K. “have been too great.”
“It is not a concern about race or color or creed. ... It is the British people’s No. 1 concern,” he said of immigration and his desire to apply a four-year waiting period for immigrants to obtain welfare, a plan that has received the most pushback from fellow EU leaders.