Sunday

22nd Oct 2017

Cameron warns of Brexit 'madness'

  • Cameron makes the case for EU membership three weeks before the 23 June referendum (Photo: Prime minister's office)

British prime minister David Cameron defended his pledge to curb migration to the UK, but said it could only be done if Britain remained a part of the European Union.

In a big test before the EU membership referendum on 23 June, Cameron was grilled for an hour on Thursday evening (2 June) by the Sky News TV broadcaster.

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Cameron set his target at getting the annual net migration below 100,000. Last month it emerged that net migration to the UK hit 333,000 in 2015.

Cameron said he was "not going to put a date" on when his government would reach its target. He suggested that it depended on when economic growth picked up in continental Europe.

"There are good ways of controlling migration and there are bad ways," he added.

He said a "good way" was the deal he negotiated with fellow EU leaders in February - to ensure that new EU migrants do not claim unemployment benefit and leave after six months if they do not have a job. The deal also said people who have a job must pay into the system for four years before getting access to in-work welfare schemes.

'Madness'

Cameron rejected claims that he was scaremongering ahead of the vote. But he said it would be "madness" for the UK to leave the EU single market and warned that the move could drag down the UK economy.

"We do need to do things to control migration like restricting in-work welfare, but it would be madness to try to do that by trashing our economy and pulling out of the single market," he said.

"Leaving the single market would be an act of economic self-harm for Britain and we absolutely shouldn't do it".

The EU 'drives me crazy'

In the heated exchange with the audience and with Sky's interviewer, Cameron admitted his frustration with the EU, but said Britons are not "quitters".

"Sometimes this organisation [the EU] drives me crazy," he said. "But do I sit there and think Britain would be better off if we left? Are we quitters? Do we think we quit the EU, we quit the single market and somehow we will be better off? Absolutely not".

He warned that if the UK left the EU, it would be stuck outside the negotiating room, with "our nose pressed to the window, trying to find out what decision they were making,"

"That would be terrible," he said.

He said he wold never join the euro. But he added that if the UK was not already a member, he would join the EU under the "special status" he negotiated earlier this year.

Turkey will join in 3,000

Cameron tried to dissipate popular concern that Turkey might join the bloc, creating more immigration to the UK.

"At this rate, they'll join in the year 3000," he said.

"There is no prospect of Turkey joining the EU in decades. They applied in 1987, they have to complete 35 chapters, one has been completed so far," he said. "Turkey's not going to join the EU anytime soon, every country, every parliament has a veto".

Polls suggest the race is very close.

After Cameron's TV performance, aimed at breaking the deadlock, UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage accused the prime minister of lying.

Farage said: "It [the single market] sounds lovely and cuddly and fluffy but actually this referendum is about political union and the single market is actually the embodiment of it," he said.

"Anything to get away from immigration, anything to get away from the fact he can't control his borders, and was he lying when he wrote the manifesto or is he lying now, because somewhere this doesn't add up?", Farage was quoted as saying by the BBC.

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Whether the UK votes to stay or go, Brexit is an opportunity to create a much deeper European Union, Guy Verhofstadt, the liberal leader in the EU parliament, has said.

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