Britain should “pare down” it relationship with the European Union then put it to a vote in a referendum, the London Mayor Boris Johnson said today.
Mr Johnson said returning Britain to a “single market” relationship with the European Union was both “essential and deliverable”, but said if voters did not like it they could opt to leave the EU altogether.
He said it was “high time” that the British people had a chance to vote on the issue.
In the next few weeks David Cameron is expected to set out his approach to Britain’s relationship with Europe in a key note speech. He is expected to announce a referendum on Britain’s relationship with Europe after the 2015 election but is resisting calls for an in/out question.
But in remarks which are unlikely to be welcomed either in Downing Street or Brussels, Mr Johnson said he believed Britain should abandon the goal of being “at the heart of Europe” and instead demand a “common sense” relationship.
This would see the UK involved in the single market and the decisions governing it, but abolish much of the bureaucracy coming from Brussels.
Mr Johnson rejected warnings that a renegotiated relationship with the EU would turn the UK into a backwater, insisting that London would remain “the heart of the world economy”, trading freely not only with Europe but also the emerging economic giants like India and China.
And he set himself on collision course with Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne over their support for closer fiscal union within the eurozone, which he denounced as “anti-democratic and therefore intellectually and morally wrong”.
He also risked offending Germany by saying that the government of Greece appeared to have been “taken over” by Chancellor Angela Merkel, which was not “the outcome the Greeks were hoping for in 1944”, when the Nazi occupation of the country was ended.
Speaking at Thomson Reuters, Mr Johnson said that the UK could establish a similar position in relation to the EU as that of Norway or Switzerland, with the added advantage of remaining within the councils which determine the rules of the single market.
However, pro-Europeans pointed out that there was little incentive for other Governments to agree to the change adding that Britain would also lose its say about the rules of the market if it opted out of other parts of the EU.
Mr Johnson said the euro had shown itself to be “a calamitous project”, as many in Britain had warned, and plans for fiscal and banking union would “make a bad situation worse”.
With EU politics increasingly consumed by projects to establish closer union between the eurozone states, “we can no longer pretend that this country is at the heart of Europe”.
But he described this situation as “liberating”, as it offered the chance for the UK to “seize the moment to ask the British people to define themselves and their future in Europe”.
“Boil it down to the single market. Scrap the social chapter. Scrap the fisheries policy," said Mr Johnson.
“We could construct a relationship with the EU that more closely resembled that of Norway or Switzerland - except that we would be inside the single market council, and able to shape legislation...
“That is a renegotiated Treaty we could and should put to the vote of the British people.
“It is high time that we had a referendum, and it would be a very simple question. Do you want to stay in the EU single market - yes or no? And if people don't think the new relationship is an improvement, then they will exercise their sovereign right to leave the EU.
“This pared down relationship is essential and deliverable.”
Mr Johnson insisted that Britain's European neighbours would not "punish or blame" the UK for seeking this new relationship, and would recognise that "what is good for London is good for the EU as a whole".
Even with a stripped-back EU membership, the City could be expected to continue to dominate global trade in the euro, he said.
And he argued that the new position would be best for the UK in the globalised world economy of the future, in which the Bric countries - Brazil, Russia, India and China - and other emerging giants will earn a growing share of GDP.
"The future for London is to be at the heart of the world economy, the centre of a series of interconnecting sets, trading freely with the EU, but with our eyes on the growth economies of the 21st century," said Mr Johnson.