LONDON / Bloomberg
Two of the leading U.K. government ministers campaigning for an exit from the European Union played up the prospects for Britain if it votes to leave the bloc, rejecting warnings from Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne.
â€œBritain is a great country, the people here are inventive, innovative, and they will find a way with us to actually have a real deal that gives Britain access to the world and access to Europe,â€ Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said on BBC Televisionâ€™s â€œAndrew Marr Showâ€ on Sunday. â€œWhy would we have such a low opinion of the British people that we go out and talk about leaping into the dark, we talk about profound shocks, we talk about them not being capable, that weâ€™re too small?â€
The leader of the House of Commons, Chris Grayling, dismissed â€œscare storiesâ€ about what might happen. â€œWe buy far more from the European Union than they buy from us,â€ he told Sky News television. â€œIf anybody is worried about the outcome at the moment, itâ€™s continental businesses in France, in Germany, in Spain and in Italy who will not want to see trading arrangements change.â€
Cameron wrote in a Sunday Telegraph newspaper article that those in favor of a so-called Brexit are â€œextremely vagueâ€ when asked to set out a vision of life outside the bloc ahead of the June 23 referendum. Osborne warned last week that leaving the EU would represent a â€œprofound economic shockâ€ for Britain, while Group of 20 finance chiefs listed it as being among the risks facing the global economy.
The pound posted its worst week in more than seven years last week amid anxiety that the U.K. might vote to leave. Sterling tumbled 3.7 percent against the dollar.
The most recent opinion poll, published Friday by ORB, showed 52 percent of respondents backing an exit with 48 percent opting to stay in. That result, obtained in an online survey, was a reversal of Januaryâ€™s findings by the same polling company and in line with a trend that has shown the â€œLeaveâ€ camp gaining ground. Less frequent telephone polling, though, continues to show mostly double-digit leads for â€œRemain.â€
Duncan Smith, a former leader of the ruling Conservative Party, said the U.K. would be able to negotiate a mutually satisfactory deal with the rump EU after a Brexit vote. â€œWe do a deal with the European Union; that is a trade deal; it is about access to our markets, access to theirs,â€ he said.
â€˜Chaos and Confusionâ€™
By contrast, the U.K. faces â€œchaos and confusionâ€ if it stays in the bloc, Duncan Smith said, arguing that no one can predict what may happen to the euro in the future. He also rejected suggestions that an exit would lead to a flood of asylum seekers to Britain from France through the Channel Tunnel. â€œItâ€™s not going to happen because it does not suit the French,â€ he said.
Another former Tory leader, Michael Howard, whoâ€™s also backing a Brexit, took a similar line in an interview on BBC TVâ€™s â€œSunday Politicsâ€ show.
â€œWe are the biggest export market for the rest of the European Union,â€ said Howard, now a member of the upper, unelected House of Lords. â€œThe Germans would want to continue to sell us their BMWs and Audis, the French will continue to want to sell us their wine, and if they want to continue to have access to our market, theyâ€™ve got to make sure we continue to have access to theirs.â€
Cameron struck a deal with fellow EU leaders earlier this month that, among other things, gives the U.K. the possibility of curbing welfare payments to newly arrived workers from other countries in the 28-member bloc. The prime minister says that will help him achieve his aim of reducing immigration.
G-2O finance ministers and central-bank chiefs, who met Friday and Saturday in Shanghai, said in their final communique that â€œthe shock of a potential U.K. exit from the European Unionâ€ is among â€œdownside risksâ€ to the global recovery.
In his Telegraph article, Cameron described a vote to leave as â€the gamble of the century,â€ arguing that â€œitâ€™s simply not good enough to assert everything will be all right when jobs and our countryâ€™s future are at stake.â€
The prime minister has spent the past week pushing the case for a â€œRemainâ€ vote, and has been open in his criticism of the stances taken by senior Brexit campaigners within the Tory party, including London Mayor Boris Johnson. The Sunday Times newspaper reported that dissident Conservative lawmakers are preparing to launch a leadership challenge against Cameron, whatever the referendum result, unless he stops the
Speaking on Sky, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said the cabinet will need to â€œheal the effectsâ€ of the split over Europe. â€œThat will be the focus of all us once the referendum debate is over,â€ he said.