Cameron Attacks Johnson in Pitch for EU Referendum ‘Stay’ Vote

The One Question Brits Are Asking: In or Out?
  • Rules out option of a second referendum if U.K. backs `Brexit'
  • Premier warns of economic consequences of departure from bloc

David Cameron attacked Boris Johnson for backing a U.K. exit from the European Union, dismissing the London mayor’s suggestion that a vote to leave the bloc could trigger a better deal for Britain.

QuickTake Will Britain Leave the EU?

The prime minister directly rejected an idea put forward by Johnson, the highest-profile member of his Conservative Party to support a “Brexit,” that an unprecedented vote to leave the EU could lead to further negotiations. The notion that other EU leaders, with whom Cameron reached agreement Friday on new membership terms for the U.K., would return to the negotiating table is “for the birds,” he said. 

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“This is a straight democratic decision, staying in or leaving, and no government can ignore that,” the prime minister told the House of Commons in London on Monday as he appealed to lawmakers to support staying in the bloc in a popular vote on June 23. “Having a second renegotiation followed by a second referendum is not on the ballot paper.”

Johnson electrified the referendum campaign Sunday with his decision to defy Cameron and support the campaign to leave the EU. His announcement sent the pound plummeting in its worst day since 2010. Johnson, who has been installed since his challenge as the favorite by bookmakers to succeed Cameron as Tory leader and prime minister, said in an article for the Daily Telegraph newspaper that he wants to send a message to the EU that real reform is needed, implying he might be seeking better membership terms as a result.

‘Only Opportunity’

“There is only one way to get the change we need -– and that is to vote to go; because all EU history shows that they only really listen to a population when it says ‘No,’” Johnson wrote. “This is the only opportunity we will ever have to show that we care about self-rule. A vote to ‘Remain’ will be taken in Brussels as a green light for more federalism, and for the erosion of democracy.”

Cameron compared Johnson’s argument to a husband and wife viewing the start of divorce proceedings as the best route to renewing their marriage vows.

“Sadly, I’ve known a number of couples who have begun divorce proceedings; I do not know any who’ve begun divorce proceedings in order to renew their marriage vows,” the premier said. “It would be undemocratic to ignore the wish of British people to leave.”

‘No Other Agenda’

“I am not standing for re-election,” Cameron said in a reference that hinted at Johnson’s leadership ambitions. “I have no other agenda than what is best for our country.”

Of the main Tory leadership candidates, Johnson is the only one to have set out a pro-‘Brexit’ stance that is likely to win greater support among the party’s rank and file.
Cameron warned that the economy would suffer if the U.K. left the EU and it would be less secure against threats from Russia and terrorism. He said the agreements he had reached on welfare, excluding Britain from ‘ever closer union’ and protecting the interests of country outside the euro would improve Britain’s relationship with the bloc.

‘Special Status’

“Not only are different countries able to move at different speeds but they’re ultimately able to head to different destinations too,” he said. “Our special status means that Britain can have the best of both worlds. In the parts of Europe that work for us, influencing the decisions that affect us. But we will be out of the parts of Europe that don’t work for us.”

Sterling dropped Monday to its lowest level in almost seven years against the dollar and weakened at least 1 percent against all its 16 major peers. The pound dropped 1.7 percent to $1.4164 as of 5:26 p.m. in London.

The latest poll, from ICM, showed 42 percent of respondents in favor of staying in the bloc, with 40 percent opposed and 17 percent undecided. The online survey of 2,021 voters was conducted almost entirely before Johnson’s announcement. A Survation poll carried out Saturday showed a 15 percentage-point lead for staying in. That’s in line with other recent phone surveys, which have consistently shown big leads for the status quo, while more frequent online polling has been inconclusive.

Scots Warning

Angus Robertson, the leader of the Scottish National Party in the House of Commons, said a decision to leave would trigger a new popular vote in Scotland on breaking away from the U.K.

“If we are forced out of the EU I’m certain the public in Scotland will demand a referendum on Scottish independence,” he said. “We will fight for our position in Europe.”

Tory lawmakers including former ministers Liam Fox and Peter Lilley asked a series of questions showing that they intend to campaign for Britain to leave the EU. Lilley warned of “the risk of remaining” in the bloc as he sought to reverse Cameron’s campaign message about the uncertainty a ‘Leave’ vote would bring.

Jacob Rees-Mogg turned to a quote from a rhyme for children to ridicule the prime minister’s message. “Is the government’s policy basically ‘always keep a hold of nurse for fear of finding something worse?”’ he asked.

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