LONDON Prime Minister David Cameron will be taking a "dangerous gamble" if he tries to win concessions from the European Union by exploiting a crisis among the bloc's euro zone nations, one of his senior ministers said on Thursday.
Cameron, under pressure from eurosceptic MPs within his Conservative party, will make a long-anticipated speech on Friday detailing his plans to renegotiate Britain's relationship with the 27-nation bloc.
He is expected to offer Britons a referendum on any new settlement he can secure in return for assenting to further integration among EU countries that use the single currency.
Business Secretary Vince Cable, from Cameron's pro-EU Liberal Democrat coalition partners, warned that this was a risky strategy that could easily backfire and leave Britain worse off.
"There are many in Europe, notably in France, who would be happy to see the back of the UK ... and even the UK's allies on market reform, notably Germany, have limited political capital to spend getting a more favourable arrangement for the UK," he said.
"That seems to me a dangerous gamble to make," he said, according to extracts of a speech to a business audience released in advance.
"It is totally unclear whether the other members of the EU will be willing to negotiate new terms for the UK and on what basis," he added.
Cable's warning comes as political and business leaders increasingly voice concerns over the risk of calling a referendum that could see Britain leaving the EU.
"I have never met or heard of a business that exports widely, within or beyond Europe, that thinks it would be better to be doing this from outside the EU. And I meet more businesses than any other minister," Cable said.
The prospect of a referendum would itself deter international investors from Britain and would destabilise efforts to revive a stagnant economy, he said.
"This is a terrible time to have the diversion and uncertainty which the build-up to a referendum would entail."
(Reporting by Tim Castle; Editing by Kevin Liffey)