Cameron Says U.K.’s Brexit Vote More Important Than Election

  • PM says ‘difficult to reverse’ choice that would hit economy
  • Treasury cautions that vote to leave EU would push pound lower

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said that the country’s referendum on leaving the European Union matters more than a general election, aiming to intensify voters’ focus on the June 23 vote as he also warned that a so-called Brexit would leave them worse off.

“What is a more important decision, a general election, or this Europe vote?” Cameron told ITV in an interview on Sunday. “Actually the Europe vote is more important, because if you don’t like the government, you can always get rid of them in five years’ time. If we make this decision to leave the EU, to get out of the single market, and hit our economy, and hit jobs, it would be very, very difficult if not impossible to reverse that decision.”

QuickTake Will Britain Leave the EU?

Cameron said the Treasury will on Monday publish its analysis of the short-term impact of an exit. On Saturday, an extract predicted that over the next two years, house prices would be as much as 18 percent less than they would be if the U.K. stayed in the EU. On Sunday, the Treasury suggested the pound would fall 12 percent after a vote to leave, pushing up annual household shopping bills by 220 pounds ($320) over the same period. Bank of England Governor Mark Carney said earlier in the month that a vote to leave could spark a recession.

The emphasis on risk is aimed at pushing undecided voters -- who polls indicate make up as much as a quarter of the electorate -- into the “Remain” camp. Recent polling has suggested that, with the vote now just a month away, the “Leave” side is losing ground. Betfair put the chance of Brexit at 21 percent. The Number Cruncher Politics site has the probability at about 19 percent, the lowest it’s been.

Higher Prices

“Prices would be higher, unemployment would be higher, growth would be affected, we would be less well off,” Cameron said. “You really have to ask yourself, is it worth taking this risk?”

The prime minister’s comments add to a plethora of personal economic arguments presented by the pro-EU camp in recent days. Former retail chief executives of Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer and B&Q said in the Daily Mail on Sunday that Brexit would cause a spike in retail prices and job losses, while Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said Saturday that a vote to leave the EU could also lead to higher mortgage rates.

The “Leave” campaign has questioned the accuracy of the government’s assessment. Armed Forces Minister Penny Mordaunt said on the BBC’s Andrew Marr program on Sunday that the public is “annoyed” at “scaremongering and all the false reports that have been coming from the Remain side,” and said that “there’s no jitters on the economy.”

Turkey Debate

Mordaunt’s appearance also illustrated how the Conservative Party is split over the debate. Explaining the “Leave” side’s argument that EU membership carries a danger of increased immigration because the bloc is likely to expand to include Turkey, she denied that Britain had the power to veto such a move.

Less than an hour later, Mordaunt was bluntly contradicted by the prime minister.

“Let me be clear,” Cameron said. “Britain and every other country in the European Union has a veto on another country joining. That is a fact. The fact that the Leave campaign are getting things as straightforward as this wrong, I think should call into question their whole judgment in making the bigger argument about leaving the EU.”

Michael Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News, has publicly supported the campaign to keep the U.K. in the EU.

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