London / Bloomberg
Prime Minister David Cameron started selling his deal on Britain’s membership in the European Union to voters with a direct appeal to Boris Johnson, the last senior figure in his Conservative Party still to declare which side he’ll join in the campaign.
“I would say to Boris what I say to everybody else, which is that we will be safer, we’ll be stronger, we’ll be better off inside the EU,” Cameron told BBC Television’s “Andrew Marr” show Sunday, the day after announcing the U.K. will hold a referendum on EU membership on June 23. “You boil it down to if you love this country, and I love this country so much, and you want what’s best for it.”
Cameron is struggling to prevent his Conservative government from fracturing after securing an agreement with fellow EU leaders overhauling the terms of U.K. membership. Following an emergency cabinet meeting Saturday, six ministers said they’d defy the premier and campaign to leave, among them Cameron’s long-time friend and ally, Justice Secretary Michael Gove.
All eyes are on which way Johnson, the outgoing London mayor, will jump. A popular figure with voters, who mostly know him by his first name, and the politician won the mayorship in Labour-leaning London for the Tories twice, Johnson is seen as potentially the most influential “Brexit” campaigner should he choose to back the Out camp.
An Ipsos Mori poll on Feb. 17 found he’s second to only Cameron when it comes to influencing whether voters choose to stay or go. He is also, alongside Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, one of the favorites to succeed Cameron as PM.
Given his popularity, Johnson’s support for either side may prove key to the performance of sterling during the campaign, according Morgan Stanley. Should he choose to publicly back the campaign to leave, a so-called Brexit, “the pound should come under immediate pressure,” analysts led by Hans Redeker wrote in an e-mailed report Friday. Johnson is expected to make a statement clarifying his position, according to newspaper reports.
“If Boris and if others really care about being able to get things done in our world, then the EU is one of the ways in which we get them done,” Cameron told the BBC.
The political and economic stakes for the U.K. are rising as campaigning begins for the June referendum. With markets already braced for volatility, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon upped the ante Sunday, telling the BBC that a U.K. vote to leave the EU without Scotland’s backing “would trigger a demand for a second Scottish referendum.”
Business Secretary SajidJavid and Home Secretary Theresa May, both seen as wavering over which way to vote, meanwhile threw their support behind the campaign to
Writing in the Mail on Sunday newspaper, Javid said he had decided to campaign to remain as the economic risks of leaving were too great in the current climate.
“In recent months, we have once again seen storm clouds gathering over the global economy,” he wrote. “The fallout from a ‘leave’ vote this summer would only add to economic turbulence that is, quite possibly, about to engulf the world. Some have even warned that Brexit could precipitate the total collapse of the EU, and while I know that many might welcome such a prospect, the shockwaves could prove catastrophic in the current climate.”
The referendum will revisit the question of the U.K.’s membership of the EU that was last put to voters in 1975, two years after Britain joined the bloc, then known as the European Economic Community. The bookmaker Ladbrokes on Saturday put the odds of Britons voting to remain at 69 percent.
Several ministers were pictured on Saturday at a rally by Vote Leave, one of several groups campaigning for an exit. As well as Gove, they included Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, Chris Grayling, the leader of the House of Commons, Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers, Culture Secretary John Whittingdale and Employment Minister Priti Patel.
Late Friday, several rank-and-file Tory lawmakers addressed a rally by Grassroots Out, another group campaigning for an exit.