Brexit TV Special Sees Cameron, Farage Push Core Messages

Updated on
  • Cameron warns of danger to economy and struggle on immigration
  • Farage tells audience that ‘there’s more to life than GDP’

David Cameron answers questions from the audience during The ITV Referendum Debate on June 7.

Photographer: Matt Frost/ITV via Getty Images

David Cameron used his highest-profile appearance of the European Union referendum campaign so far to focus on the economy as the reason to stay in the bloc, as his opponent, Nigel Farage, put the spotlight on immigration into Britain.

Appearing on ITV on Tuesday evening, the prime minister warned a so-called Brexit would mean “less investment, less jobs.” He was repeatedly challenged about the growing influx of migrants from elsewhere in the EU and the resultant pressure on public services.

Cameron’s main achievement of the evening actually came last month, when the format of the program was agreed. He avoided a head-to-head debate, or any direct confrontation with a fellow Conservative such as Justice Secretary Michael Gove or former London Mayor Boris Johnson. The prime minister instead answered questions after Farage, the U.K. Independence Party leader, a figure seen by the “Remain” campaign as alienating many voters.

“I want everyone to focus very clearly on the choice,” Cameron said. “Do you go with Nigel Farage and the ‘Leave’ team, put jobs at risk and potentially shrink our economy, or do you go with this extraordinary alliance of the Greens and the Liberals and the Labour Party and the Conservative government and trades unions and businesses large and small?”

Polls, if they can be trusted, suggest that with just over two weeks to go, the race is tight. The Number Cruncher Politics Brexit Probability Index has risen to 24.4 percent from 17.4 percent on May 24. 

A report by the Washington-based Pew Research Center meanwhile found that opposition to the EU is growing across the bloc, with the 28-nation EU “again experiencing a sharp dip in public support in a number of its largest member states.”

Nigel Farage stands in front of a new EU Referendum campaign poster ahead of his debate with the British Prime Minister David Cameron in London.
Nigel Farage stands in front of a new EU Referendum campaign poster ahead of his debate with the British Prime Minister David Cameron in London.
Photographer: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

For more on the Pew report, click here

Earlier on Tuesday, Cameron took the highly unusual step, for him, of calling a press conference and used it to do what he’d said he wouldn’t do in the campaign: attack fellow Tories. He accused Gove and Johnson of lying to the public over the risks of a Brexit.

Cameron’s team is banking on a swing back to the status quo in the final weeks before the vote, which is why it’s focusing on the risks to the U.K. of leaving the EU. As well as making economic arguments, Cameron repeated that he feared Scotland would hold another independence referendum if Britain votes to to quit the bloc.

The prime minister also argued that leaving the EU would diminish Britain’s standing in the world. “The right thing to do is to fight for a great Britain in the EU and not take the ‘Little England’ option of Nigel Farage,” he said.

Farage, who in general-election debates last year sometimes attacked audience members for their views, was more restrained this time, though told one woman to “calm down there.” He was asked about the dangers of jobs going overseas and responded by criticizing those who had issued warnings on the subject as being in the pay of the government. He reserved some of his bitterest words for the president of the European Commission.

“We’re British, we’re better than that,” he said. “We’re not going to be bullied by anybody, least of all the unelected Jean-Claude Juncker.”

‘More to Life’

Challenged again on the economy, Farage argued there were more important things to consider. He agreed that immigrants contributed to national wealth but said “the real truth is that there is more to life than GDP.”

The deadline to apply for a vote in the referendum expired at midnight London time Tuesday, though a website failure saw some users unable to register. Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and the head of the Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron, called for the deadline to be extended.

— With assistance by Svenja O'Donnell

(Updates with call for extension of voter registration in final paragraph. An earlier version of this story corrected the day of the TV appearance.)
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