London / AFP
Britain will vote on its membership of the European Union on June 23, Prime Minister David Cameron said on Saturday as he began the daunting challenge of persuading the country to stay in.
He announced the date for the referendum after a two-hour cabinet meeting where he outlined the deal he struck in Brussels on Friday that he said will give Britain “special status” in the EU.
“We are approaching one of the biggest decisions this country will face in our lifetimes,” he said, addressing the nation outside his 10 Downing Street residence.
“The choice goes to the kind of country we want to be,” he said, warning that proponents of leaving were offering “a risk at a time of uncertainty, a leap in the dark”.
Britain would be “safer, stronger and better off” in the bloc, he said, calling the concessions negotiated with other EU leaders “the best of both worlds”.
The campaign will be bitterly contested in a country with a long tradition of euroscepticism and a hostile right-wing press, with opinion polls showing Britons are almost evenly divided.
Cameron’s Conservative party has long been split over Europe and the premier held an emergency cabinet meeting on Saturday to try to persuade ministers to his cause.
But no sooner had the talks ended than five of the cabinet’s 22 ministers announced they would be campaigning to leave, including justice minister Michael Gove.