David Cameron has confronted accusations that his campaign to keep Britain in the European Union has been founded on scaremongering, warning opponents not to be “glib” about the risks of Brexit, and calling on voters not to “roll the dice” on their children’s future.
In his first major major televised event ahead of the 23 June referendum, the Prime Minister also came under pressure over the Government’s failure to hit its goal of keeping net migration below 100,000, and refused to set a date on when the target could be reached.
Mr Cameron faced a fiery audience during the live event, broadcast on Sky News, an on several occasions was confronted by obvious scepticism of some of the Remain campaign’s warnings over the consequences of Brexit.
Asked whether he stood by his controversial suggestion that Brexit might put 70 years of peace in Europe in jeopardy, Mr Cameron said that stability and cooperation between European powers should not be taken for granted, and accused his interviewer, Sky News political editor Faisal Islam, of being “glib” about the risks.
“On our continent in the last century, twice we had an enormous bloodbath between our nations. Can we be so confident that we’ve solved all of Europe’s problems and all of Europe’s tensions?” he said. “I sit around the European Council table. It can be immensely frustrating. But when you’re there you never forget that 70 years ago these countries were fighting each other. I don’t think we should take that for granted.”
In a one-hour TV set-piece, which involved both an interview and questions from the audience, Mr Cameron sought to focus on the economic benefits of EU membership, saying there was a “very positive case” for remaining an EU member.
“We’ll be better off as a country with more jobs, I think we’ll keep our country moving forward, I think we’ll be stronger as a country, we’ll get things done in the world,” he said.
However he ended on another warning: that Britain did not “succeed when we quit”.
“I would just say to everybody: as we go home and wake up in the morning and look our children and our grandchildren in the eye and we think who we are responsible for through our pay packet, let us not roll the dice on their future,” he said.
”Britain doesn't succeed when we quit, we succeed when we get stuck in and we work to improve these organisations and we safeguard the prosperity and the security of this great country.”
The Prime Minister was also repeatedly challenged over the impact of EU membership on immigration, and declined to put a date on when the Government’s longstanding target of bringing net migration, which last year stood at 333,000, down to the tens of thousands.
He said the target was achievable within the EU, but declined to put a date on when it might be achieved.
“I think it remains the right ambition for Britain…I’m not going to put a date on it,” he said. “There are good ways of controlling migration and there are bad ways. A good way is doing what I did in my renegotiation - which hasn't come into effect yet and will if we stay in the EU - which is to say to people `If you come to our country, first of all you don't claim unemployment benefit, after six months if you haven't got a job you have to leave, and when you do get a job you have to work for four years, paying into the system, before you get full access to our welfare system.”
In the question and answer stage of the programme, Mr Cameron was confronted by accusations from the public that he had over-stated the risks of leaving and damaged his political legacy. Leave campaigners claimed that the Prime Minister had lost the public’s trust.
Vote Leave chief executive Matthew Elliott said: ‘‘David Cameron came face-to-face with real voters and tough questions for the first time in the campaign tonight and it wasn’t pretty - his scaremongering was ridiculed by the audience in the studio and at home…Cameron blew his credibility when he claimed that Britain becoming a normal democracy would spark World War Three - tonight showed the public doesn’t trust Cameron.”
Asked whether he thought Leave campaign figurehead Boris Johnson should be the next Prime Minister, Mr Cameron said the former mayor of London was a “talented politician” who still had “plenty of fuel in the tank”.
“I don't get to pick the next prime minister,” he said. “That will be a decision made by the party and by the country when the country votes. So I'm not going to put the black spot on anyone by saying who should or shouldn't do the job.
“But he is a very talented guy. On this issue we disagree.”
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