LONDON — Britain would be making a "monumental error" that could threaten its global influence if it turned away from the European Union (EU), former Prime Minister Tony Blair warned on Wednesday.
Blair said there was a "real and present danger" that current premier David Cameron's policy of renegotiating Britain's position in the 27-member bloc could move the country toward the exit.
"Europe is a destiny we will never embrace easily. But it is an absolutely essential part of our nation remaining a world power politically and economically," Blair said in a speech at the Chatham House think tank in London.
"It would be a monumental error of statesmanship to turn our back on it and fall away from a crucial position of power and influence in the 21st century," added Blair, who was Labor prime minister from 1997 to 2007.
Cameron, a Conservative, said last week that he still supports British membership of the EU but cannot accept the "status quo" and wants a "new settlement" that involves bringing some powers home.
But Blair said this was a way of disguising an eventual exit from the bloc.
"Let us be very clear too about this 'renegotiating the terms of membership' line," Blair said.
"This is the refuge of those who want to leave but want to persuade people that really it's just an adjustment of our relationship," he said. "Then in the course of 'the adjustment' when the going gets very rough, as it will, they will then say 'well it's a pity but now it seems adjustment is not enough'.
"Our country faces a real and present danger by edging towards exit," he added.
The British electorate increasingly favors a full exit from the EU, with a recent poll in The Observer newspaper finding that 56 percent of those surveyed would vote to leave given the chance.
Cameron on Friday opposed a new trillion-euro EU budget for the next seven years, saying that it was unacceptable to raise spending at a time when many countries are taking austerity measures at home.
© AFP 2013