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UK's future in EU 'on a knife-edge'
Britain's future in the European Union would rest on a knife-edge if a referendum was held immediately, polling has indicated.
According to research carried out for The Times, 40% of voters back an UK exit while 37% want to keep ties with Brussels and 23% do not know.
The Populus survey would translate to a 53-47 vote in favour of leaving after other factors, such as likelihood to vote, were taken into account, according to the newspaper.
Prime Minister David Cameron has insisted he wants Britain to remain within the EU, although under a renegotiated settlement. Meeting fellow EU leaders for the first time since announcing his plan to stage an in/out referendum on UK membership, he insisted the British people were not "turning our backs on Europe". But he told them Europe was being "out-competed, out-invested, out-innovated" and must be transformed into an engine for growth.
Attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Mr Cameron discussed the proposals in a 15-minute meeting with German chancellor Angela Merkel, who has indicated she is open to a "fair compromise" with Britain.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said he is "still none the wiser about exactly what this great re-negotiation means". In an interview with The House magazine, he said: "It was a well-crafted speech and obviously very well delivered. But in terms of the content, look, the Conservative Party will obviously ride away with headlines about the referendum today. My own view is that it will be a tactical victory today for a strategic mistake tomorrow."
Meanwhile, Labour leader Ed Miliband sought to clarify his own position on Europe, after appearing to rule out an in/out referendum in the House of Commons. He said: "I am being clear. I do not think it makes sense, now, to commit to an in/out referendum years ahead."
The director general of the World Trade Organisation, Pascal Lamy, said it was unclear whether leaving the EU would damage Britain's trade with Europe.
Mr Lamy told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Whether a change in the relationship between the UK and Europe would change the trade relationship remains to be seen. I'm not saying I don't think so, but I know countries - like Norway or Switzerland - who are not members of the EU and whose trade relationship with the EU is very open."
The vice-president of the European Commission, Viviane Reding, said that exit would remove Britain's ability to attempt to block proposed EU regulations which it opposes, such as her plan for quotas for women in boardrooms. "The Brits could try to do it because they were sitting around the table," Ms Reding told Today. "If they weren't sat around the table any more, even trying wouldn't be in the possibilities."