• China, oil and Middle East bigger threats, Whittingdale says
  • Osborne's March 16 budget should not be affected by referendum

Prime Minister David Cameron’s allegation that Britain faces economic catastrophe if it votes to leave the European Union is dangerous and may encourage investors to overreact to the prospect of a so-called Brexit, said Culture Secretary John Whittingdale, one of the cabinet ministers advocating quitting the bloc.

QuickTake Will Britain Leave the EU?

Whittingdale, a former adviser to Margaret Thatcher, said the U.K.’s prosperity faces greater threats from the stability of the Chinese economy, conflict in the Middle East and fluctuations in the oil price than from the decision it makes in a referendum on EU membership to be held on June 23.

“The government should prepare for both outcomes, and telling people that Armageddon would follow is both wrong and dangerous, if then Britain did decide to leave,” Whittingdale told reporters at a lunch in Parliament in London on Tuesday. “People may react on the basis that this is going to cause these economic shocks.”

Whittingdale, who worked for NM Rothschild & Sons Ltd. before becoming a lawmaker and was appointed as culture secretary after Cameron’s surprise election win in May last year, is one of six cabinet ministers opposing the premier’s campaign to stay in the EU. He said Britain would be able to “prosper” outside the bloc and would be liberated to pursue opportunities currently denied to it.

The possibility of leaving the EU should not be a “central issue” in Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne’s budget next week, Whittingdale said.

“Whilst it’s true that the question of the U.K.’s membership of the EU is the biggest issue in domestic politics, there are so many other uncertainties out there,” Whittingdale said. “George shouldn’t produce a budget saying ‘these are my forecasts if we stay in and these are my forecasts if we go out’ -- it would be like a budget that says these are my forecasts if the oil price goes up or the oil price goes down.”

He also attacked the “Remain”’ campaign’s argument that those wanting to leave the EU are unable to say which other country’s model they would like the U.K. to follow.

“This whole idea of ‘do you want to be Switzerland or Norway?’ -- I want to be neither, I want to be Britain,” Whittingdale said.

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