Cameron calls for UK referendum on EU membership

Tories remain divided; Justice Secretary Michael Gove to campaign for Brexit

Updated - December 04, 2021 11:03 pm IST

Published - February 20, 2016 10:50 pm IST - LONDON:

British Prime Minister David Cameron called a June 23 referendum on membership of the European Union on Saturday as he sought to rally his divided Conservative Party behind a deal which he said would guarantee Britain’s prosperity and security in the bloc.

After spelling out details of the deal — clinched at an EU summit in Brussels — to his senior Ministers, Mr. Cameron said he had secured the Cabinet’s backing to recommend to voters that Britain stay in the bloc it joined in 1973.

The agreement granted Britain an explicit exemption from the founding goal of an “ever closer union”, offered concessions on the welfare rights of migrant workers and safeguards for the City of London.

“I believe Britain will be safer, stronger and better off by remaining in a reformed European Union,” Mr. Cameron said outside his 10 Downing Street residence here.

“Leaving Europe would threaten our economic and our national security,” he said, adding that he would propose to Parliament that the referendum be held on June 23, in the middle of the Glastonbury music festival and the Euro 2016 soccer championship.

One of Mr. Cameron’s closest political allies, Justice Secretary Michael Gove, and five other Cabinet members will campaign to leave. They signed a poster for the Vote Leave out campaign saying “Let’s take back control”. While the rebellion illustrated the depth of the division over Europe within his ruling Conservative Party, Mr. Cameron’s most senior ministers backed EU membership.

Cameron to make statement in Parliament

A British exit from the European Union would rock the Union — already shaken by differences over migration and the future of the euro zone — by ripping away its second-largest economy, one of its top two military powers and by far its richest financial centre.

Pro-Europeans warn an exit could also trigger the break-up of the United Kingdom by prompting another Scottish independence vote. The $2.9-trillion British economy would face years of uncertain negotiations over the terms of a divorce.

Prime Minister David Cameron is due to make a statement to Parliament on Monday, triggering the start of the campaign for the referendum on EU membership he called after striking a deal with the Union.

A Cabinet meeting, the first to be held on a Saturday since the 1982 Falklands War, will formalise government support for staying in the EU and Mr. Cameron has said ministers will then be free to campaign on whichever side they want.

Mr. Cameron acknowledged that Justice Secretary Michael Gove would campaign to leave, saying he was disappointed but not surprised. He suggested other Conservatives may also join the “out” camp. Mr. Gove joined Christopher Grayling, leader of the House of Commons, Iain Duncan Smith, a former Conservative Party leader, Employment Minister Priti Patel, Culture Minister John Whittingdale and Northern Ireland Minister Theresa Villiers in support the leaving camp.

Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, an influential figure in Britain through his ownership of a clutch of U.K. newspapers, congratulated Mr. Gove. “Congratulations Michael Gove,” Murdoch said on Twitter. “Friends always knew his principles would overcome his personal friendships.” The message from the 84-year-old media mogul raises the prospect of some of the media tycoon’s British newspapers possibly campaigning for an EU exit.

Opponents of EU membership say Britain would prosper outside what they say is a doomed Germany-dominated bloc that punches way below its weight on the world stage.

The issue of Europe has divided the Conservatives for three decades and played a major part in the downfall of Cameron’s two Conservative predecessors, Margaret Thatcher and John Major.

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