Remain camp not using exaggerated scare stories, insists Cameron
THE campaign to keep Britain in the European Union is not running a Project Fear characterised by exaggerated scare stories, David Cameron has told MPs.
Appearing before senior MPs on the Commons liaison committee, the Prime Minister denied the Remain camp was running a Project Fear campaign to scare voters in to opting for EU membership with threats of the damage departure could do to the economy and jobs.
The SNP’s Pete Wishart, who chairs the Scottish affairs committee, warned that the use of “fanciful, exaggerated scare stories” could cost the Remain side votes, arguing that a similar approach had “squandered a 20-point lead” in the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence.
But Mr Cameron declared: “I don’t accept that there are exaggerated stories.
“My argument in this referendum is that we will have a very bright and exciting future, not restrained by our membership of the EU but we will be a stronger, safer, better-off country, better able to punch above our weight on the world stage, get things done in the world, because we are a member of this organisation – just as we get a lot out of being a member of Nato, or the G7 or the G20.
“That’s my argument. It’s a positive argument. But are we right to warn people of the consequences if we were to leave – economic consequences, jobs consequences, World Trade Organisation tariff consequences? Yes, we are.”
He stressed how he did “not want to wake up on June 24 to people saying: ‘Well, Prime Minister, you didn’t set out all of the concerns and worries’.”
Asked whether he sometimes wished he had not called the referendum at all, Mr Cameron replied: “No. I’m a believer in democracy.”
The PM also insisted his renegotiation of Britain’s membership of the EU had secured “fundamental” reforms after he was accused of offering a “false prospectus” to voters in the June 23 poll.
Veteran Eurosceptic Sir William Cash accused him of “cheating” referendum voters because the outcome of the renegotiation did not allow him to guarantee change in the EU’s treaties before they cast their votes.
But Mr Cameron insisted the deal reached in Brussels in February delivered “fundamental” reform to remove Britain from the commitment to “ever-closer union”, guarantee equity of treatment for the pound and address concerns over migrant welfare.
The PM dodged repeated questions from Andrew Tyrie, the committee chairman, over whether or not he would recommend continued membership of an unreformed Union.
Insisting that the status quo was not an option on offer, Mr Cameron would say only: “I’m going to be voting to stay in a reformed EU on the basis of the choice in front of us.”
Sir William told him that his promise of “full-on treaty change” had failed and the top legal adviser to the European Council had made clear he did not regard the reform package as “irreversible”.
The Conservative backbencher said: “When the voters vote on June 23, it will be a historic vote on your package as a whole.
“But as you cannot guarantee, or even offer, a treaty change before they go to the polling station and cast their votes, are you not thereby cheating the voters when they vote on that historic occasion?”
Sir William said that elements of the supposedly irreversible agreement could be overturned by court decisions, changes of government in any of the 28 EU states, or the results of referendums elsewhere in the Union.
He told the PM: “You are actually presenting the voters with a decision on June 23 based on a false prospectus because it is not irreversible and you cannot say that it is.”
Mr Cameron said he was not “over-emphasising” the significance of the renegotiation deal and stressed the referendum was not a judgement on his package but on the wider issue of whether the UK should remain in the EU.
He insisted treaty change had been secured in key areas and cited the opinion of European law expert Sir Alan Dashwood QC that the deal was “irreversible in practice”.
“I fundamentally disagree with you,” the PM told Sir William. “When people go to the polls, they should think about the whole issue; the EU as it’s going to be or leaving. But I do think the renegotiation was successful and it achieved some fundamental goals.”
Meantime, Mr Cameron insisted that he would stay on as PM to oversee withdrawal negotiations if Britain voted to leave.
“It’s quite important that this referendum is about Britain’s future in Europe and it’s not about one team of politicians or another team of politicians or one person’s future or another person’s future.
“I don’t want anyone to cloud their decision-making with what the choice is about. It is in a reformed Europe or out. I will accept the verdict and do everything I can to put it in place.”
But Labour committee member Frank Field challenged him: “So you are seriously thinking that if the vote goes against you, you can remain as Prime Minister?”
Mr Cameron replied: “Yes.”