Cameron's Man in Brussels Evokes Thatcher as `Brexit' Odds Drop

  • U.K.'s EU commissioner says `everything would be uncertain'
  • Thatcher made speech outlining EU vision in Bruges in 1988

It was Margaret Thatcher’s landmark speech on her vision for the future of the European Union that helped define her premiership and the U.K.’s decades-long frosty relationship with the rest of the bloc.

And 28 years later, with the country teetering closer to ‘‘Brexit’’ -- a British exit from the EU -- than at any time since, the U.K.’s European commissioner paid his own visit to the Belgian town that gave Thatcher’s speech its name, to set out the case for Britain’s continued membership.

“Some things for which she argued strongly then have today become a central part of our everyday agenda,” said Jonathan Hill, the U.K.’s representative on the European Commission, to an audience at the College of Europe in Bruges on Friday, referencing Thatcher’s address at the same venue in 1988. “Since then, the U.K. has greatly benefited from being part of the European Union’s single market, particularly when it comes to financial services.”

Like Thatcher, current British Prime Minister David Cameron is at odds with many members of his Conservative party over the U.K.’s relationship with the EU. Cameron’s campaign to convince Britain voters to opt to remain part of the EU at a referendum on June 23, has pitted him against prominent lawmakers on his own side, including London Mayor Boris Johnson, who say the U.K. would be better off outside the bloc.

Thatcher’s “Bruges Speech” deepened ruptures with her more pro-EU cabinet colleagues and is often still cited by Euro-skeptics as an inspiration even though she did not make the case for Britain’s withdrawal from the EU. She talked about how she didn’t want to see “a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels” -- something Cameron says he has finally put a stop to with changes to Britain’s terms of membership agreed to with other EU leaders last month.

With three months to go before the U.K. referendum, British bookmakers have shortened the odds of voters supporting Brexit. William Hill reduced the odds on Friday to 15/8 from 9/4, it said in a Twitter post on Friday.

“As is becoming increasingly clear, there is no convincing answer to how arrangements outside the EU would be better,” said Hill, also a Conservative, in charge of the EU commission’s financial services portfolio. “Only one thing is certain: everything would be uncertain. And uncertainty is usually the enemy of investment.”

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