MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - Prime Minister David Cameron said on Wednesday he would fight hard in his talks to change Britain’s relationship with the European Union, calling the 28-member bloc “too big, too bossy and too interfering”.
In a speech aimed at calming Eurosceptic members of his ruling Conservative Party, Cameron also tried to shape his vision for his second term - to tackle poverty, inequality and offer security to build a “greater Britain”.
He said he would make sure Britain never signed up to the EU’s stated goal of “ever closer union”, a clear attempt at silencing the growing criticism in his party of the renegotiation which may cloud his last five years in power.
But Cameron also said Britain had influenced Europe before and could remain strong in Europe, promising he could get a “better deal and the best of both worlds”.
“We don’t duck fights. We get stuck in. We fix problems,” he told the Conservative Party annual conference in the northern English city of Manchester.
“We all know what’s wrong with the EU – it’s got too big, too bossy, too interfering. But we also know what’s right about it – it’s the biggest single market in the world.”
“Believe me, I have no romantic attachment to the European Union and its institutions. I’m only interested in two things: Britain’s prosperity and Britain’s influence. That’s why I’m going to fight so hard in this renegotiation,” he said.
Cameron has conceded ground to his vocal Eurosceptics by offering a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union by the end of 2017, hoping to bury an issue that has divided the party for years and helped bring down two former prime ministers.
His ministers say technical talks on reforming Britain’s relationship with the EU, including changes in the areas of sovereignty, fairness, competitiveness and immigration, are going well, but some lawmakers fear the referendum will be delayed after a migrant crisis in Europe over the summer.
Cameron says he will announce his final position only after negotiations. He personally favours Britain staying in a reformed EU, but would “not be heartbroken” to leave.
“A Greater Britain is one that is strong in the world – and that should mean one that is strong in Europe, too,” he said.
His call for a “Greater Britain” also envisaged a country tackling some of its most entrenched problems - poverty, inequality and fighting extremism to stop young Britons from joining Islamic State militants fighting in Iraq and Syria.
Cameron, who at 48 has said he will step down by 2020 after his second term as prime minister, said Britain had to offer more opportunities to minorities and tackle segregation to inspire young people.
“Be in no doubt: if you are teaching intolerance, we will shut you down,” he warned schools.
He called on the Conservative party to become the party of the working people and claim the “centre ground” as the main opposition Labour Party turns further left.
To attract younger voters - many of whom have backed Labour’s new far-left leader Jeremy Corbyn, he unveiled a new policy to spur home ownership, striking at criticism that his Conservative government is failing growing numbers of Britons unable to buy a house.
“When a generation of hardworking men and women in their 20s and 30s are waking up each morning in their childhood bedrooms - that should be a wakeup call for us,” Cameron said.
Home ownership has long been a totemic issue for the Conservative Party and strikes at the new leader of the Labour Party, who had promised to do more to help people afford homes.
“So I believe that we can make this era – these 2010s – a defining decade for our country the turnaround decade,” he said.
“We can be that Greater Britain.”
Additional reporting by William James; Witing by Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Alison Williams