Cameron Rebuffs Accusations of Scaremongering Over Brexitby and
Merkel warns U.K. of isolation if Brexit camp wins referendum
Intervention backs up Cameron as polls show swing to ‘Leave’
Prime Minister David Cameron invoked his alliance with opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and former union chief Brendan Barber to win over an audience unimpressed by his government’s “scaremongering” campaign to keep Britain in the European Union.
Immigration was the issue frequently most cited by the audience in a question-and-answer session with the prime minister on Thursday evening, broadcast by Sky News television. That illustrates why the “Leave” campaign has used the number of EU immigrants entering the country every year as its main line of attack in persuading voters to back a so-called Brexit.
Cameron repeatedly sought to bring the debate back to the economic impact of Brexit and praised a “very strong speech” on the EU by Corbyn earlier in the day as he acknowledged “making some new friends” including Barber in his campaign to keep the U.K. in the 28-nation bloc. Earlier, he got support from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who made her strongest intervention in the debate so far, warning that the U.K. would be isolated and lose influence if it leaves the EU.
“As we wake up, we should think about our pay packets, and who they support,” Cameron said in his closing comments at the event in London, exactly three weeks before the referendum that decides whether Britain remains in the EU. “Let us not roll a dice on their future.”
Cameron’s intervention came after polls this week showed support for Brexit increasing as “Leave” campaigners focused on attacking the government’s record on immigration. The “Remain” camp has centered its pitch to voters on the impact on the economy, with the Treasury publishing a number of reports arguing that leaving the EU would cause higher unemployment, a recession and a drop in house prices.
Merkel cited trade and the single market as key reasons for the U.K. to stay in, backing the economic arguments made by bodies such as the International Monetary Fund. Campaigners for leaving argue that the U.K. can continue doing business freely with the EU and reach favorable free-trade deals with the rest of the world once out of the bloc.
“For those coming from the outside, and we’ve had lots of negotiations with third-party countries, we would never make the same compromises, or achieve the same good results, for states that don’t take on the responsibility and costs of the single market,” Merkel said at a news conference in Berlin on Thursday. “One nation alone will never be able to achieve such good results.”
The message from the leader of Europe’s biggest economy and the continent’s most powerful nation risks a British backlash as she adds her support for staying in to that of U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders.
The pound dropped earlier this week amid the swing in the polls. Citigroup Inc. economists Willem Buiter and Tina Fordham said in a note Thursday they’re “increasingly concerned” in the run-up to the June 23 vote. The Number Cruncher Politics Brexit Probability Index has risen to 21.7 percent from 17.4 percent early last week.
Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutchman who heads the group of euro-area finance ministers, told an audience of business leaders in Brussels that Britain faces “much, much greater” economic risks than the rest of the EU if it leaves the bloc.
Corbyn highlighted the social and welfare case for staying in the bloc Thursday, arguing that EU regulations have ensured paid leave for 26 million workers in Britain and maternity leave for 340,000 women a year.
“Several ‘Leave’ supporters have stated clearly they want to leave Europe to water down workers’ rights, to rip up the protections that protect work-life balance, that prevent discrimination and prevent exploitation and injustice,” the Labour leader said at an event in London.
U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage argued that the “Leave” side is picking up momentum as the campaign heats up and welcomed the focus on immigration by Justice Secretary Michael Gove and former Mayor of London Boris Johnson.
“The fact that Boris Johnson and Michael Gove have now decided that controlling immigration can only be done by leaving the EU is a decisive moment in this campaign, because that’s what the people in this country want,” Farage said in an interview in central London. “The ‘Remain’ side are speaking for their own, vested self-interest and what we’ve got to say is, ‘this is the little people,’ this is ordinary people against the political establishment.”