David Cameron dismisses prospect of second EU referendum insisting voters backing Brexit would be 'final'
Published 22/02/2016 | 16:50
David Cameron has dismissed the prospect of a second EU referendum as he insisted voters backing a British exit would be the "final" decision.
The Prime Minister, in a thinly-veiled attack on London mayor Boris Johnson, told MPs that an approach to use a vote to Leave as a way of strengthening Britain's position in the EU ignores issues of democracy, diplomacy and legality.
He said a second renegotiation followed by a second referendum is "not on the ballot paper", adding: "For a Prime Minister to ignore the express will of the British people to leave the EU would not just be wrong, it'd be undemocratic."
Mr Cameron, making a statement in the Commons outlining his deal aimed at keeping Britain in the EU, said the country will continue to be great regardless of the choice made by voters.
He added: "I believe the choice is between being an even greater Britain inside a reformed EU or a great leap into the unknown.
"The challenges facing the west today are genuinely threatening. Putin's aggression in the east, Islamist extremism to the south - in my view, this is no time to divide the west.
"When faced with challenges to our way of life, our values and our freedoms, this is a time for strength in numbers."
Mr Cameron insisted he has "no other agenda than what's best for our country" as he reaffirmed he will not seek re-election.
He went on: "I'm standing here telling you what I think. My responsibility as Prime Minister is to speak plainly about what I believe is right for our country and that is what I'll do every day for the next four months."
Earlier, when outlining why there will be no second referendum, Mr Cameron joked he had not heard of couples seeking to renew their marriage vows by first seeking divorce.
Mr Cameron said: "On diplomacy, the idea that other European countries would be ready to start a second negotiation is for the birds.
"Many are under pressure for what they have already agreed.
"Then there is the legality and I want to spell out this point for the House carefully because it is important - if the British people vote to leave, there's only one way to bring that about and that is to trigger Article 50 of the treaties and begin the process of exit.
"And the British people would rightly expect that that should start straightaway."
Mr Cameron explained a two-year time period to negotiate Brexit would be triggered, noting it is not a process to rejoin but a "process for leaving".
He said: "Sadly I have known a number of couples who have begun divorce proceedings, but I do not know of any who have begun divorce proceedings in order to renew their marriage vows."
At this point, Labour MPs mocked and heckled Conservative MP Mr Johnson.
Mr Cameron warned Britain's access to the single market would cease immediately after the two-year period ended while trade agreements with 53 countries would lapse.
He said: "This cannot be described as anything other than risk uncertainty and a leap in the dark that could hurt working people in our country for years to come, and this is not some theoretical question - this is a real decision about people's lives.
"When it comes to people's jobs it's simply not enough to say it'll be all right on the night and we will work it out, and I believe in the weeks to come we need to properly face up to the economic consequences of a choice to leave."
Jeremy Corbyn said Labour was "overwhelmingly" for remaining in the EU because it provides jobs and protection for workers, investment, and action on the environment.
Describing the referendum as putting an "historic choice" to the British people, the Labour leader said: "We welcome the fact that it is now in the hands of the people of this country to decide that issue.
"The Labour Party and the trade union movement are overwhelmingly for staying in because we believe that the European Union has brought investment, jobs and protection for workers, consumers and environment and we are convinced that a vote to remain is in the best interests of the people."
But Mr Corbyn slammed Mr Cameron's renegotiated deal, claiming it does nothing to address the challenges facing Britain and instead amounts to a "theatrical sideshow" aimed at appeasing the Eurosceptic wing of the Conservatives.
He said: "In the 21st Century as a country and as a continent and indeed as a human race we face some challenging issues - how to tackle climate change, how to address the power of global corporations, how to ensure they pay fair taxes, how to tackle cyber crime and terrorism, how we trade fairly and protect jobs and pay in an era of globalisation, how we address the causes of the huge refugee movements across the world, how we adapt to a world where people of all countries move more frequently to live, work and retire.
"All of these issues are serious, pressing and self evidently can only be solved by international cooperation.
"The European Union will be a vital part of how we as a country meet those challenges, therefore it's more than disappointing that the Prime Minister's deal has failed to address a single one of those issues."
He added: "The reality is that this entire negotiation has not been about the challenges facing our continent, neither has it been about the issues facing the people of Britain, indeed it's been a theatrical sideshow about trying to appease, or failing to appease, half of the Prime Minister's own Conservative Party."