Osborne Says U.K. ‘Safer’ in EU as Cameron to Call Referendum

  • Cameron to hold Saturday cabinet meeting, set date for vote
  • Attention turns to which ministers will campaign to leave EU

U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said the U.K. will be “safer” staying in the European Union as Prime Minister David Cameron signaled he’ll set a date for an in-out referendum later on Saturday.

“We’re stronger, safer and better off in the EU,” Osborne said Saturday in an interview on British Broadcasting Corp. radio. “The alternative is a huge leap in the dark, with the risks that that entails for our country, for its economy and for our security.”

George Osborne arrives at Downing Street on Feb. 20

Photographer: Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images

Cameron said on Twitter he’d announce the referendum date after the conclusion of a cabinet meeting that was scheduled to start at 10 a.m. in London, and described by the BBC as the first on a Saturday since the war over the Falkland islands in the early 1980s.

Intense Haggling

The prime minister declared late Friday he’d achieved “a deal to give the U.K. special status within the EU,” emerging from 32 hours of intense haggling in Brussels with fellow EU leaders over terms resetting Britain’s relationship with the bloc. After the cabinet meeting, attention will turn to the stance of ministers, given a free hand by Cameron to campaign against the government’s position. They were asked to hold fire until after the cabinet meeting.

Late Friday, Cameron signaled acceptance that Justice Secretary Michael Gove is likely to campaign for a vote to leave the bloc.

"Michael is one of my oldest and closest friends,” Cameron told reporters in Brussels. “He’s wanted to get Britain out of the EU for about 30 years. Of course I’m disappointed that we’re not going to be on the same side. I’m disappointed but I’m not surprised.”

Other senior Conservatives who have expressed Euro-skeptic views and may campaign for an "out" vote include Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, Business Secretary Sajid Javid, Chris Grayling, the leader of the House of Commons, and Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers.

‘Bitterly Divided’

The views of London Mayor Boris Johnson will be the most closely watched, after an Ipsos Mori poll on Feb. 17 found he’s second to only Cameron when it comes to influencing whether voters choose to stay or go.

Unlike the “bitterly divided" Tories, the opposition Labour Party is largely united on the issue of Europe, its foreign affairs spokesman, Hilary Benn, said Saturday in a BBC radio interview. “The vast majority of Labour MPs, the Labour movement, the Labour Party conference, the trade union movement supports our continued membership.”

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbynalso threw his weight behind the campaign to stay.

“We will be campaigning to keep Britain in Europe in the coming referendum, regardless of David Cameron’s tinkering, because it brings investment, jobs and protection for British workers and consumers,” Corbyn said Saturday in an e-mailed statement.

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