David Cameron signals possibility of EU referendum
David Cameron signals possibility of EU referendum Reuters

Prime Minister David Cameron has hinted at a referendum on the country's relationship with the EU at an appropriate time.

In an article in the Sunday Telegraph, Cameron wrote: "We will need to consider how best to get the full-hearted support of the British people whether it is in a general election or in a referendum. As I have said, for me the two words 'Europe' and 'referendum' can go together."

Although the prime minister did not suggest an immediate referendum, he said the real choice of the people should be upheld.

In response to Cameron's article, the Lib Dems said there is not much public appetite for debate. "The Liberal Democrats do not believe that there is much public appetite at the moment for an abstract discussion about a referendum on an undefined question at an unspecified time in a future parliament," a Lib Dem source told the BBC.

The prime minister was responding to a letter signed by nearly 100 Tory MPs for a referendum to be held. Although Cameron had earlier ruled out the idea, his article leaves room for speculation.

"We need to be absolutely clear about what we really want, what we now have and the best way of getting what is best for Britain. I am not against referendums in our parliamentary democracy. Parliament is elected to make decisions and be accountable, but when powers are transferred it is right to ask the people," Cameron wrote.

Analysts point out that the prime minister is moving a step closer to a possible referendum.

Elaborating on the government's position, foreign secretary William Hague said in an interview with the BBC's Andrew Marr: "The prime minister is not changing our position, but he is pointing the way to how our thinking is developing and how policy should be guided in the future - how we should think about this choice about whether to have a referendum. Not an in or out decision now, but a determination to get a better position in the European Union for the United Kingdom."

Labour accused Cameron of caving in to the demand of backbenchers in the cabinet.