Beleaguered Prime Minister David Cameron plotted today to placate an anti-EU upsurge by promising a referendum in about five years time.
The next Conservative manifesto in 2015 would seek a mandate to negotiate a "new settlement" with the EU, he promised in a crafty speech.
"And when we have negotiated that new settlement, we will give the British people a referendum with a very simple in or out choice.
"To stay in the EU on these new terms or come out altogether. It will be an in-out referendum."
Mr Cameron caught the pro-EU Labour leadership on the hop and aimed to take some of the puff out of Tory backbenchers who are demanding an in-out referendum well before the next general election.
But he upset his junior Lib Dem ally Nick Clegg, who warned that years of uncertainty caused by a protracted EU renegotiation "is not in the national interest."
Mr Cameron ducked demands for an immediate referendum, claiming that "a vote tomorrow between the status quo and leaving would be an entirely false choice."
The arrogant PM also spoke as if the Tories were destined to win the next election.
Trade union-backed campaign No2EU spokesman Brian Denny said the PM speech was a manoeuvre "to put off a referendum that the public is clearly demanding now."
"It was designed to 'save the blushes of the political class'," he added.
Mr Denny also complained that much of the labour movement was "sticking its head in the sand."
No2EU wants a Europe of independent, democratic states that don't offer public services to profiteers and do not put the interests of big business above that of ordinary people.
People's Pledge spokesman Mark Seddon said Mr Cameron had posed an "enormous challenge" to the Labour Party.
Mr Seddon urged: "Ed Miliband and Labour will now have to catch up, promise the same while pointing out the absurdity of Cameron's claim that he can renegotiate Britain's place in the EU."
Despite his attempted Churchillian act, the PM made it clear that he would fight hard to keep Britain in the EU.
"With courage and conviction I believe we can deliver a more flexible, adaptable and open European Union in which the interests and ambitions of all its members can be met," he proclaimed.
Mr Cameron added that if such an arrangement could be negotiated, he would campaign for it "with all my heart and soul."
He said he was speaking as a British Prime Minister "with a positive vision for the future of the European Union."
If changes were not made, there was a danger that the EU would fail and Britain would "drift toward the exit."
And he warned: "If we left the European Union, it would be a one-way ticket, not a return."
Right-wing Tory Bill Cash commented that he would have preferred a referendum during this Parliament and before the next EU elections.
Tory backbenchers cheered Mr Cameron wildly at Question Time as he taunted Mr Miliband, telling him: "He needs to go away, get a policy, come back and tell us what it is."
Amid derisive Tory laughter, Mr Miliband confirmed: "We don't want an in-out referendum."
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