LONDON — Britain should try to renegotiate its relationship with the European Union before holding any referendum on relations between London and Brussels, Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Sunday.
His intervention came after Prime Minister David Cameron signalled that he was not opposed to the idea.
"What we want is a better relationship with Europe," Hague told BBC television.
"There's too much interference, too much bureaucracy, too many decisions made at the European level. That's what we want to change."
"The time to decide on a referendum... on our relationship with Europe is when we know how Europe is going to develop over the coming months and years to the eurozone crisis, and when we know whether we can get that better relationship."
Hague said there would be a "very, very powerful" case for a referendum if EU member states agreed to closer union in response to the eurozone crisis.
"If it changes in that way, and once we know whether we can get a better relationship with Europe, then that is the time to make the case for a referendum.
"That is the time -- not now," he said.
Cameron has come under intense pressure from the eurosceptic wing of his Conservative Party to claw back powers from Brussels, but their junior coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, are more pro-EU.
Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, Cameron signalled that he would back a referendum on the renegotiation of Britain's relationship with the EU.
"For me the two words 'Europe' and 'referendum' can go together," he wrote, but only when the time was right.
Cameron said he favoured "a different, more flexible and less onerous position for Britain within the EU".
Cameron said he was not in favour of an "in/out referendum" on whether Britain should leave the EU, but would support a public vote on whether Britain should change its relationship with the 27-country bloc.
"Leaving would not be in our country's best interests," he wrote. "Yet the fact is the British people are not happy with what they have, and neither am I."
He added: "What I want -- and what I believe the vast majority of the British people want -- is to make changes to our relationship.
"Whole swathes of legislation covering social issues, working time and home affairs should, in my view, be scrapped," he wrote.
A poll for the Times newspaper last month found that half of Britons wanted an immediate say on the country's relationship with the European Union.
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »