Merkel: Let’s talk

GERMAN chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday said she would seek a compromise agreement to stop Britain leaving the European Union, following David Cameron’s pledge to hold a referendum on the UK’s membership of the organisation by 2017.

“We are prepared to talk about British wishes but we must always bear in mind that other countries have different wishes and we must find a fair compromise,” Merkel said. “We will talk intensively with Britain about its individual ideas but that has some time over the months ahead.”

However her foreign minister Guido Westerwelle warned that “cherry picking is not an option” with the EU.

French foreign minister Laurent Fabius was even less enthusiastic: “If Britain wants to leave Europe we will roll out the red carpet for you.”

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti said he believed Britons would stay in the EU if they were given a choice, while the White House restated its belief that the UK should stay in Europe.

Cameron yesterday insisted that he would vote in favour of Britain staying in the 27-member bloc. However Labour leader Ed Miliband rejected the entire concept of a public vote on membership: “Our position is no: we don’t want an in-out referendum.”

However, business leaders came out in support of the Prime Minister with 48 industry and City leaders backing his plans in a letter to The Times, published today.

The Prime Minister delighted Eurosceptics and angered European leaders in equal measures with his long-awaited speech, which was delivered yesterday morning in the City.

In it he pledged to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU, and put the new deal to a vote by halfway through the next parliament, saying it is “time for the British people to have their say” on Europe.

As part of the renegotiation process Cameron promised to conduct an audit of the powers Britain wants to claw back from Brussels. In the speech he highlighted working time restrictions on doctors in the health service as an example of the EU restricting British practices.

Cameron also attacked City leaders who fear a referendum may negatively affect the economy: “Some people say that to point this out is irresponsible, creates uncertainty for business and puts a question mark over Britain’s place in the EU. But the question mark is already there: ignoring it won’t make it go away.”

Yesterday the fiercely Eurosceptic Ukip party claimed credit for Cameron’s decision.

“Ukip should be awarding itself a medal. I don’t think we would have got here with internal pressure alone,” Eurosceptic Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan told City A.M. “We’ve got the thing we’ve been wanting for over 20 years.”