David Cameron has brought forward his long-awaited speech on the UK's future relationship with Europe to Friday after rising expectations about its content prompted fears he would be unable to meet the demands of the Conservative's Eurosceptic wing.
The speech will be delivered in the Netherlands. His previous planned date early next week clashed with the 50th anniversary of the Franco-German Elysée treaty, which set the seal on the postwar reconciliation between the two countries – which fought three wars in less than 100 years. A speech attacking the current shape of the EU on such a day was seen as diplomatically unwise.
The Conservative political cabinet will meet on Wednesday, but Cameron said the speech was already written and ready to go – a remark that annoyed some Eurosceptic cabinet members.
Fearing that his voice was being squeezed in the debate, Cameron embarked on a round of TV and radio interviews on Monday morning to map out his thinking and say why he was optimistic that his strategy could work and lead to a more comfortable UK-EU relationship.
He said he had the overwhelming support of the British people to renegotiate the terms of the UK relationship and denied his strategy was risky. He restated his belief that it was in the national interest to remain in the EU, and said he was "confident" he could secure a successful renegotiation of Britain's relationship that could be put to the public.
He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that he had the opportunity to demand changes since the rest of Europe wanted to make enormous changes driven by the needs of the single currency.
Cameron tried to dismiss any scenario in which he was unable to secure concessions from the EU which he could then put to the British people, insisting he had the support of allies in countries such as Germany and the Netherlands for a revised EU that led to powers flowing back to nation states. "I am confident we will get the changes that we want," he said, without being pressed to explain in any detail what those changes might entail.
The prime minister implied that reforms to the single currency would require Germany to demand treaty changes, therefore giving Britain a negotiating opportunity. He pointed out there had been three treaty changes in the past two years.
"Those who say this is very dangerous and you are putting at risk our relationship with Europe, or with business, I don't agree with that because the fact is that this debate is happening anyway, so we have a choice as politicians: do you lead that debate and make the changes that are right for Britain, or do you put your head in the sand and hope the whole debate is going to go away? It is not going to go away."
He added: "The British public feel increasingly fed up with being left out of this debate."
Britain can veto changes to the treaty on the single currency if it has not secured the reforms it seeks. Cameron said this did not represent blackmail, a charge made last week by senior German politicians close to the chancellor, Angela Merkel.
"I am not blackmailing anyone. Britain, like any other member, has a perfect right to say Britain is a member of this club, we pay a large bill and we believe Europe has to change." Britain would not collapse if it left the EU, he said, but that was not his goal.
Asked about recent comments from the Obama administration warning Britain not to quit the EU, he said he recognised that Washington wanted a strong Britain as its candid friend within the EU. "I completely understood why the Americans wanted to express this view," he said. "In the end it is for our country, our people, to decide exactly what sort of relationship that should be."
He explained: "When we make those changes for a new settlement we should make sure there is full heated consent for that settlement. I am not against referenda. The principle is that if you are fundamentally changing the relationship between Britain and Europe you should be having a referendum.
"If we had an in-out referendum tomorrow, or very shortly, I don't think that would be the right answer because we would be giving people a false choice. I think the overwhelming majority of the British people say they want to be in Europe but they want some changes to that relationship and they would like to be given a say. It is not something we should be frightened of. It's something we should embrace."
Cameron said he supported his communities secretary, Eric Pickles, in refusing to endorse the estimates prepared by civil servants on the numbers of Bulgarians and Romanians likely to come to Britain when transitional controls are lifted. "We are not content the detail is there yet," he said.
He refused to say whether there was an estimated number of migrants that may lead him to impose further controls.
Earlier, on ITV1's Daybreak, he said a desire to rein in what is seen as "too much bossiness from Brussels" was now a mainstream aspiration among voters and not just the concern of a Ukip-supporting fringe.
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