Cameron defends Europe referendum
David Cameron has defended his plans for a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union, saying it is essential to stop the country "sleepwalking towards the exit".
In an interview with the Financial Times, the Prime Minister sought to reassure business leaders concerned that his plan to renegotiate the UK's terms of membership and then put it to a popular vote has put the country on the path to leaving.
"I think this is the moment Britain stops sleepwalking towards the exit - that's what's happening now. The British public can see what's happening, that Europe is changing in front of their eyes and they haven't been asked about it," he said.
Mr Cameron also played down suggestions that the referendum could be held as early as next year if the Conservatives win the general election rather than waiting to his promised deadline of the end of 2017.
"Of course if you can do it in 2016 nobody would be more glad than me, but I expect it will take longer because there are quite a lot of moving parts," he said.
He acknowledged that some Tory MPs would "vote to leave altogether" whatever deal he was able to strike, but insisted that the party would unite in the aftermath of the referendum.
"I think there can be a coming together after that," he said.
Mr Cameron also hinted that one of the trickiest elements of the negotiation - bringing in tougher rules for welfare claimants - could be achieved without the need for treaty change, pointing out that "legal advice in the European Union is a strange beast" and was often surprisingly flexible.