Britain seeks radical reform of EU ties, may leave rights accord-Cameron

Reuters

* Cameron wants Britain's EU ties to change "very radically"

* Says he is convinced EU will have to change its treaties

* Anti-EU party poses threat to Cameron at 2015 election

* Cameron: UK may leave European Convention on Human Rights

By Peter Griffiths

LONDON, Sept 29 (Reuters) - Prime Minister David Cameronratcheted up the rhetoric against Europe on Sunday by demandinga radical change to Britain's ties with the European Union andoffering the prospect of an exit from the continent's principaltreaty on human rights.

Europe poses one of the biggest obstacles to Cameron'sre-election in 2015 and he is under pressure from Conservativelawmakers to stem the loss of support to the UK IndependenceParty (UKIP), which calls for an immediate withdrawal from theEU.

Cameron said the EU will have to renegotiate the treaties onwhich it was founded, an idea rejected by some EU members asbeing too complicated and time-consuming.

"My goal is to renegotiate our relationship with Europe,very radically," Cameron told the BBC at the start of hisConservative Party's conference in Manchester, northern England."We need a treaty renegotiation, I am convinced one has tohappen."

Cameron said in January that he would negotiate Britain's EUrelationship before holding an in/out referendum by the end of2017, provided he wins the next election in 2015.

That promise was seen as an attempt to mollify anti-EUConservatives and mount a stronger challenge to UKIP.

Some EU members have warned Britain that they will resistattempts to reclaim powers unilaterally. Business leaders saytalk of Britain leaving its biggest trading partner couldundermine confidence and investment.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was re-elected with astrong mandate this month, has started talking about powersflowing back to member states from Brussels, but "she meanssomething different from the British" and is still committed toa more integrated EU, an aide told Reuters.

EVER CLOSER UNION

With an election less than two years away, Cameron said theConservatives were the only party guaranteeing voters a straightin/out referendum by a specific date.

The opposition Labour Party, leading in opinion polls, saysan in/out referendum is currently not in the national interest.The Liberal Democrats, junior member of Cameron's coalitiongovernment, decided earlier this month to back an in/outreferendum, but only if there is a big change to the treatiesthat govern the EU.

Voters don't like the idea of an "ever closer union", one ofthe EU's guiding principles, and think the alliance has becometoo bureaucratic and anti-competitive, Cameron said. Polls showmore Britons want to leave the EU than remain a member, althoughmany are undecided.

Cameron said he would consider abolishing the Human RightsAct, which since 2000 has made the European Convention on HumanRights (ECHR) enforceable in Britain's courts.

Although the ECHR is not part of the EU system, Britisheurosceptics often drag it into the Europe debate, using it asan example of external interference in Britain's sovereignty.

The case of radical cleric Abu Qatada - who resisted Britishattempts to send him to Jordan to face terrorism charges formore than a decade - angered many voters and exposed successivegovernments to the accusation that they do not control Britain'sborders.

Asked if Britain should leave the Convention, Cameron said:"It may be that that is where we end up."

The Convention was drafted by the Council of Europe in 1950and was ratified by a British Conservative government. It isenforced by the European Court of Human Rights. Both pre-datethe establishment of the European Economic Community by severalyears and have no organic link with the European Union or theEuropean Court of Justice.

View Comments (4)