Cameron promises Britons referendum on EU membership

Prime Minister David Cameron promised Britons a far-reaching referendum within five years on membership in the European Union - provided he wins the next election — in a long-awaited speech on Wednesday whose implications have alarmed the Obama administration and are likely to set the markers for a divisive debate within Britain and across Europe.

"It is time for the British people to have their say. It is time to settle this European question in British politics," he said in remarks that had been widely foretold.

"I say to the British people: this will be your decision. And when that choice comes, you will have an important choice to make about our country's destiny," Cameron told an audience in London.

He coupled his promise with an impassioned defense of continued membership in a more streamlined and competitive European Union.

The speech was a defining moment in Cameron's career, reflecting a belief that by wresting some powers back from the EU, he can win the support of a British public which has long been ambivalent — or hostile — toward the idea of European integration.

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