Brexit referendum campaign begins

The differences between Mr. Cameron and Conservative Party Mayor of London Boris Johnson – who has backed Brexit – came to the fore in the Common’s debate.

Updated - November 17, 2021 04:21 am IST

Published - February 23, 2016 07:44 pm IST - London

The campaign on Brexit has begun in the United Kingdom, with Prime Minister David Cameron receiving early backing for his call for the UK to remain in the European Union from opposite ends of British society. Even as the pound which had taken a plunge yesterday in response to the Brexit uncertainty slowly recovered ground, nearly 200 business leaders employing over 1.2 million people, and UK’s Trade Union Congress representing six million workers, came out in support of the Stay campaign.

In separate letters published in The Times on Tuesday, 198 business leaders including the heads of 36 companies from FTSE 100, plus Francis O’Grady, General Secretary of the Trade Union Congress made the case for staying within the EU. “Britain needs unrestricted access to the European market of 500 million people in order to continue to grow, invest and create jobs,” the letter from business and corporate heads noted.

Ms. O’Grady said, “If the Brexit camp get their way many vital workplace benefits that the EU has given us – paid holidays, extra maternity rights and better conditions for part-time workers – could be for the chop. That may prove attractive to unenlightened business leaders but it will not win the hearts and minds of working people buckling under the strain of insecurity and reduced living standards.”

Leave campaigners allege that the business bosses – some of them Conservative Party funders -- who have signed up to the letter comprise just a third of the FTSE 100 companies. Initiated by the Britain Stronger in Europe campaign and the Prime Minister’s office, includes business heads of business houses like Marks and Spencer, British Telecom, Vodaphone, and ASDA, although equally big businesses have not signed.

The political divide over Brexit could not have been more evident in the House of Common’s on Monday, when Mr. David Cameron presented his case for staying in a “reformed” Europe. It was an unusual Commons debate not least because the two opposing groups did not face each other as occupants of Treasury and Opposition benches usually do In an adroit speech Mr. Cameron presented the rather limited gains he won for British ‘exceptionality’ within the EU as a major political victory, with never-before-won concessions wrested from a rigid and normally unyielding EU bloc.

The differences between Mr. Cameron and Conservative Party Mayor of London Boris Johnson – who has backed Brexit – came to the fore in the Common’s debate, with the Prime Minister ridiculing a proposal floated by Mr. Johnson of holding a second referendum after an ‘out’ vote in order to wrest more concessions from the EU. He said a second negotiation is “not on the ballot paper” and that an ‘out’ vote would immediately trigger the process for irrevocable exit.

The debate is poised to become more intense and confrontational once the campaign groups hit the road. An in-out referendum on Britain’s future in the EU will be held on June 23.

Theresa Villiers, one of the seven cabinet minister who called out early in favour of Brexit, told BBC Radio 4 News at One that the Leave campaign is the “underdog” with the force of the state ranged against them. Respect Party member George Galloway, a forceful backer of Brexit, has questioned the objectivity of how public broadcaster BBC will report on Brexit when it receives thousands of pounds in funding from the EU.

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