Brussels : Emboldened by his party’s election triumph, Britain’s finance minister insisted that his government has a “very clear mandate” to change the terms of the country’s membership in the European Union before it holds a referendum on whether to leave the bloc altogether.

The Conservatives’ promise to hold an in/out referendum by 2017 was a key plank of their manifesto in the general election last week.

The party’s top brass, including Prime Minister David Cameron, have suggested they would only support continued EU membership if the country can change terms related to its membership.

“We go into these negotiations aiming to be constructive and engaged but also resolute and firm, and no one should underestimate our determination to succeed for the working people of Britain and indeed for the working people of the European Union,” finance chief George Osborne said today ahead of a meeting of his peers from the 28-country EU in Brussels.

Osborne, who is set to be one of the lead negotiators, refused to address growing speculation that the referendum may be brought forward a year to 2016.  Many in his party and in the business community think the referendum should take place earlier than planned because it would reduce uncertainty and won’t clash with elections in Germany and France.

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