- Premier speaks at news conference announced at short notice
- Leave campaign says ‘random numbers’ being used to back EU
Prime Minister David Cameron accused two of his fellow Conservatives, Justice Secretary Michael Gove and former London Mayor Boris Johnson, of lying to the public over the risks of Britain staying in the European Union.
Less than two weeks after saying he was taking a “self-denying ordinance” on talking about his Tory colleagues’ views on Europe, Cameron called a short-notice news conference to dismiss six assertions by the “Leave” campaign ahead of the June 23 referendum, quoting words by Gove and Johnson as he did so.
“The Leave campaign are resorting to total untruths to con people into taking a leap in the dark,” Cameron told reporters on a central-London rooftop. “It’s not for me to say why they’ve made these factual errors and mistakes, but it is for me to call it out.”
Cameron listed statements on bailouts for the euro area, the rebate on British contributions to the EU and the formation of a European army as examples of misleading claims by Brexit campaigners, contrasting them with the warnings over the risks of leaving the EU from Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen and World Trade Organization Director General Roberto Azevedo.
With surveys by Britain’s discredited polling industry fluctuating between leads for both sides in the referendum, Cameron sought to reinforce the economic case for staying in the bloc, which has also been backed by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Those arguing that Britain would be better off out are focusing on the loss of control over immigration and the erosion of sovereignty as a result of membership.
An online poll by YouGov Plc published in Tuesday’s Times newspaper showed “Remain” at 43 percent and “Leave” at 42 percent. The pound fell on Monday when a survey published by the same pollster had “Leave” in the lead at 45 percent and “Remain” at 41 percent.
Gove and Johnson challenged Cameron to a face-to-face television debate on the risks of staying in or leaving the EU, an offer the premier has so far refused. He has agreed to staged events in which he faces questions from voters and will appear on ITV after U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage on Tuesday evening.
“The real risk for Britain in this referendum is voting to remain in the EU with a broken single currency and a rogue European Court. The safer choice is voting to leave, so we can take back control of our money, borders, security, trade and taxes,” Gove and Johnson said in an e-mail. “We think that the public deserve the chance to hear these issues debated face-to-face between the prime minister and a spokesman for Vote Leave so they can judge for themselves which is the safer choice on 23 June.”
Business Secretary Sajid Javid earlier on Tuesday warned that leaving the EU could cost British businesses 34.4 billion pounds ($50 billion) in “non-tariff barriers” to trade as a result of being outside the single market.
The argument, made in a letter co-signed with former Business Secretary Peter Mandelson, a member of the opposition Labour Party, was immediately dismissed by the “Leave” campaign.
Watch Next: Brexit: The Vote With Huge Consequences for the World
“With momentum shifting in favor of leaving the EU, we are seeing yet more random numbers from the ‘Remain’ camp,” James Cleverly, a Conservative lawmaker, said in an e-mailed statement. “The ‘Remain’ campaign are failing to make the positive case for the EU because there isn’t one. The costs of the EU still massively outweigh the benefits.”
Hiroaki Nakanishi, chairman of Hitachi Ltd., said Tuesday the Japanese manufacturing giant would review its activities in the U.K. if Britain votes to leave.
“Brexit would force us and similar companies to rethink, because we still have a European vision, and would be disadvantaged in pursuing it from the U.K.,” Nakanishi wrote in an article for the Daily Mirror newspaper. “We understand the EU is not perfect, but we hope the U.K. can continue from inside to change it for the better.”
The “Britain Stronger in Europe” group, which produced the estimate of how much additional trade barriers would cost British business, said it had based its calculations on the charges faced by U.S. businesses as a result of being outside the European customs union and the single market.