EU Referendum

Cameron focused on 'size of EU prize' as talks continue

David Cameron and Enda Kenny
Image caption Ireland is one of the UK's closest allies in the EU

David Cameron has said he is focused on "the size of the prize" on offer in his renegotiations with the EU.

After talks with his Irish counterpart Enda Kenny, Mr Cameron said the UK could have the "best of both worlds" by remaining in the EU but rectifying some of the things that "frustrate" the UK.

He reiterated his belief that an agreement could be reached next month.

But after the PM later spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, No 10 stressed there was "more work to do".

Mr Cameron has pledged to secure a better deal for the UK in the EU as a prelude to an in-out referendum by the end of 2017, in which voters will be asked whether they want to stay in the EU or leave.

There has been speculation that the PM could call the poll as early as June this year if he gets the backing of the EU's other 27 leaders for his reform demands at a summit in February.

'Winning the argument'

He told reporters in Downing Street that if there was a "good deal" on the table next month he would "take that deal to the British people" and strive to "win the argument for why we should stay in a reformed Europe".

But he cautioned: "It has to be the right deal. If it is not there, we have got plenty of time - we don't need a referendum till the end of 2017."

Mr Cameron said he was "very positive" about the outcome for the UK and for Europe as a whole if changes on competitiveness, economic governance, sovereignty and new powers to curb migration were obtained.

"Imagine the scale of the prize if we can remain a member of the single market...with a seat at the table and a say over the rules...combined with action to make sure we deal with things that frustrate people about the EU," he said.

"That is what I am focused on - the scale of the prize if we get this right - the best of both worlds... Being in the single market but not the single currency. Taking action in Europe when it is in our interest but not being involved in an ever-closer union."

'Right solutions'

Mr Kenny said his personal view was that a deal was possible in February but "he couldn't speak for the other countries around the table".

"It is an issue that needs to be dealt with. We regard it as being very important to the relationship between Ireland and Britain but also to the continuing strength and functioning of the EU with Britain continuing as a central member."

As the PM seeks to mobilise support ahead of the next month's summit of EU leaders, particularly over the thorny issue of curbs on access to migrants' benefits, he has again spoken to Mrs Merkel, regarded as Europe's most powerful leader.

Following their call, a Downing Street spokesperson said: "They agreed that there had been progress since December's European Council and that there was genuine goodwill across the EU to address the British people's concerns in all four areas.

"Both concluded that there was more work to do ahead of the February European Council to find the right solutions."

The latest round of diplomacy comes as campaigners clashed over the economic benefits of being in the EU.

Those arguing for the UK to leave the EU accused "In" supporters of ignoring the costs of being a member and the benefits that could follow from being able to negotiate bilateral trade deals.

David Cameron's four main aims for renegotiation

Image copyright Reuters
  • Economic governance: Securing an explicit recognition that the euro is not the only currency of the European Union, to ensure countries outside the eurozone are not disadvantaged. The UK wants safeguards that it will not have to contribute to eurozone bailouts
  • Competitiveness: Setting a target for the reduction of the "burden" of excessive regulation and extending the single market
  • Immigration: Restricting access to in-work and out-of-work benefits to EU migrants. Specifically, ministers want to stop those coming to the UK from claiming certain benefits until they have been resident for four years
  • Sovereignty: Allowing Britain to opt out from further political integration. Giving greater powers to national parliaments to block EU legislation

Referendum timeline: What will happen when?

Guide: All you need to know about the referendum

Q&A: What does Britain want from Europe?

More: BBC News EU referendum special

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