Wed | Dec 12, 2018

Cabinet split over EU membership

Published:Sunday | February 21, 2016 | 12:00 AM
British Prime Minister David Cameron announcing the EU referendum outside 10 Downing Street in London, yesterday,


A historic referendum on whether Britain should stay in the European Union (EU) will be held on June 23, Prime Minister David Cameron announced yesterday as he declared his belief that the United Kingdom would be "safer and stronger" if it remained in the 28-nation bloc.

Cameron spoke in front of his 10 Downing Street office after holding a rare Saturday Cabinet meeting and winning its agreement to recommend that Britain remain part of the EU rather than strike out on its own.

Despite that support, some Cabinet figures will back the "leave" campaign that wants Britain to carve its own path outside of the EU bureaucracy in Brussels.

Cameron said if Britons decided to remain in the EU, he would seek continued reforms to address their concerns about job losses and benefit payments to EU migrants seeking work in Britain.

"I don't love Brussels, I love Britain," he said, emphasising that Britain can have "the best of both worlds" if it remains in the EU under a reform deal which he reached last Friday night with EU leaders.

Cameron is poised to lead the campaign for Britain to remain in the bloc in what is expected to be a closely fought referendum, yet still faces scepticism from within his own Conservative Party.

Justice Secretary Michael Gove was the first to publicly oppose continued EU membership after yesterday's meeting, saying Britain would be better off on its own. He said it pained him to break ranks with Cameron.

Two strong future Conservative Party leadership contenders, Home Secretary Theresa May and Treasury chief George Osborne, indicated support for staying within the EU, as did Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon.

Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said he will support Britain's continued membership in the EU, though he said Cameron's vaunted "renegotiation" of the terms of its relationship with the EU will have little impact.

Much of the opposition to EU membership comes from the UK Independence Party led by Nigel Farage and from sceptical members of Cameron's own party.