Brexit 'would raise risk of war in Europe'
Published 10/05/2016 | 02:30
Britain needs the European Union to help fight Isil and rebuff a "newly belligerent" Russia, Prime Minister David Cameron said yesterday, making a "patriotic case" for membership that was immediately mocked by a one-time ally.
With just over six weeks to go before a referendum, both sides of the debate are sharpening their arguments, with Conservative former London mayor, Boris Johnson, attacking the prime minister for scaremongering by suggesting that Britain could trigger World War Three if it left the 28-member bloc.
Cameron, setting out the security argument for Britain to vote to remain in the EU on June 23, drew on military history, invoking the memory of wartime leader Winston Churchill to bolster his case that "isolationism has never served this country well".
But it was his words that the EU had helped secure peace for 70 years that were seized upon by 'Out' campaigners, who questioned whether he could seriously believe that a Brexit could see troops on the move in Europe again.
"I want to show that if you love this country, if you want to keep it strong in the world and keep our people safe, our membership of the EU is one of the tools that helps us to do these things," Cameron told diplomats and campaigners.
"I'm not arguing that the EU alone has kept the peace in Europe these last 70 seventy years, of course not, Nato has played an absolutely key role ... (but) it's pretty extraordinary that countries that were fighting and killing each other are now finding a way to work together."
He warned Britain that it could be exposed to greater threats if voters decided to leave the EU, underlining the role of security cooperation after dozens were killed in attacks by Isil in Brussels and Paris.
"We see a newly belligerent Russia, the rise of the Daesh (Isil) network to our east and to our south the migration crisis - dealing with these requires unity of purpose in the West," he said.
Brexit, he said, would "make cooperation more legally complex and make our access to vital information much slower".
Johnson, whom the prime minister had once hoped to recruit to his 'In' campaign, said the argument was "wholly bogus".
"I don't think the prime minister can seriously believe that leaving the EU would trigger war on the European continent, given that he was prepared only a few months ago to urge that people should vote leave if they failed to get a substantially reformed European Union," Johnson told campaigners and journalists.
He said Britain should pull out now to regain its sovereignty and democratic rights, leaving a failing organisation.
The former mayor, who is seen as a possible replacement for Cameron, called on Britons to demand answers from 'In' campaigners, including over how high levels of immigration could be curbed when the country had no control of its borders.
Both campaigns are trying to find the arguments that resonate with British voters, who, according to opinion polls, are evenly split over which way to vote.
The 'In' campaign, backed by Cameron, has so far mainly stuck to economic arguments, trying to deepen rifts in the 'Out' campaign over what Britain would look like after Brexit.
Despite his security warning, Mr Cameron defended his decision to call the referendum, telling the BBC: "You shouldn't try to hold an independent sovereign nation in an organisation against its will."
There are just over six weeks to go until the June 23 referendum which will decide whether Britain remains in or leaves the EU. The major speeches - from the most high-profile figures on both sides of the campaign - come as the referendum campaign intensifies, following last week's elections.
Mr Cameron, who was introduced by former Labour foreign secretary David Miliband, argued the EU - warned the peace and stability Europe has enjoyed in recent years could not be guaranteed, saying leaving risked "the clock being turned back to an age of competing nationalism in Europe".
While Europe has largely been at peace since 1945, Mr Cameron said it was barely two decades since the Bosnian war while, more recently, Russia has been at war with Georgia and Ukraine.
"Can we be so sure that peace and stability on our continent are assured beyond any shadow of doubt? Is that a risk worth taking? I would never be so rash as to make that assumption," he said.
He ranked 2016 alongside other major events in European history, including the Spanish Armada in 1588, the battles of Blenheim and Waterloo in 1704 and 1815 respectively, the two world wars, as well as the fall of the Berlin Wall.
"The truth is this: what happens in our neighbourhood matters to Britain," the PM added.
"That was true in 1914, in 1940 and in 1989. Or, you could add 1588, 1704 and 1815... And if things go wrong in Europe, let's not pretend we can be immune from the consequences."
Vote Leave pointed to analysis by the Historians for Britain group, which described the suggestion the EU had prevented wars as "groundless" and "historically illiterate".
It comes after former MI6 boss John Sawers warned leaving the EU would make the UK "less safe". He said the UK would be shut out of decisions on the "crucial" issue of data sharing.
However, Justice Secretary Michael Gove - who backs the campaign for the UK to leave the EU - said Mr Sawers was "flat wrong".
Meanwhile, Johnson said that to keep insisting the EU is about economics is like saying the Italian mafia is interested in olive oil and real estate.
The EU is becoming "ever more centralising", he warned, and now has explicit competence for trade, customs, transport, security justice, culture, tourism, education, youth.
He also said that there is a "systematic subterfuge" which seeks to hide the scale of what it happening in Europe.
"We have got to stop kidding the British public," he said. Commenting on immigration he added that: ""We have absolutely no power to control the numbers coming... I'm in favour of immigration but I'm also in favour of control. It bewilders people that this basic power of the state to decide who has the right to live and work in your country is denied by Brussels."
Johnson also attacked the "offensive, insulting, irrelevant and positively cretinous" people who criticise those who want Britain to leave the EU.
"Above all - to get to the third key point of the Remainers - if we leave the EU we will not, repeat not, be leaving Europe. Of all the arguments they make, this is the one that infuriates me the most. I am a child of Europe. I am a liberal cosmopolitan and my family is a genetic UN peacekeeping force.
"I can read novels in French and I can sing the 'Ode to Joy' in German, and if they keep accusing me of being a Little Englander, I will.
"Both as editor of the 'Spectator' and Mayor of London, I have promoted the teaching of modern European languages in our schools. I have dedicated much of my life to the study of the origins of our common European culture and civilization in ancient Greece and Rome.
"So I find if offensive, insulting, irrelevant and positively cretinous to be told - sometimes by people who can barely speak a foreign language - that I belong to a group of small-minded xenophobes."