Cabinet members desert as Cameron confirms EU referendum date

David Cameron speaking in Downing Street today

David Cameron speaking in Downing Street today

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DAVID Cameron today confirmed Britain will decide whether its future lies in the European Union on June 23.

The Prime Minister made the announcement in Downing Street after a two-hour Cabinet meeting - the first on a Saturday since the Falklands War - to brief ministers on the deal secured in marathon talks in Brussels.

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A series of Cabinet members immediately declared they would be campaigning against the Prime Minister in the referendum

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He said: “We are approaching on of the biggest decisions this country will face in our lifetimes, whether to remain in a reformed European Union or to leave.

“The choice goes to the heart of the kind of country we want to be and the future that we want for our children.”

He continued: “I do not love Brussels, I love Britain. I am the first to say there are still many ways in which Europe needs to improve and that the task of reforming Europe does not end with yesterday’s agreement.

Home Secretary Theresa May declared her support for the EU deal before arriving at today's Cabinet meeting

Home Secretary Theresa May declared her support for the EU deal before arriving at today's Cabinet meeting

“And I will never say that our country couldn’t survive outside Europe. We are Great Britain, we can achieve great things. That is not the question in this referendum, the question is will we be safer, stronger, better off working together in a reformed Europe on our own?”

Mr Cameron said leaving Europe “would threaten our economic and our national security” and the UK could now have the “best of both worlds”.

He added: “The choice is in your hands. But my recommendation is clear.

“I believe that Britain will be safer, stronger and better off by remaining in a reformed European Union.”

Ministers are now free to campaign against the deal if they wish and Justice Secretary Michael Gove, a close ally of the Prime Minister, confirmed today that he will join Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith in calling for a ‘leave’ vote.

They are among five cabinet ministers to declare they will campaign to leave the European Union - despite a stark warning from Mr Cameron that an “out” vote would be a “leap in the dark”.

As expected, Chris Grayling, Theresa Villiers and John Whittingdale - plus Priti Patel, who is not a full Cabinet member but attends meetings - all confirmed they would be in the “out” camp during an extraordinary Saturday morning meeting of the ministerial top team.

A statement from Mr Gove said: “I believe our country would be freer, fairer and better off outside the EU. And if, at this moment of decision, I didn’t say what I believe I would not be true to my convictions or my country,

“By leaving the EU we can take control. Indeed, we can show the rest of Europe the way to flourish.

“Instead of grumbling and complaining about the things we can’t change and growing resentful and bitter, we can shape an optimistic, forward-looking and genuinely internationalist alternative to the path the EU is going down.”

He said he had wrestled for weeks “with the most difficult decision of my political life.

“I was encouraged to stand for Parliament by David Cameron and he has given me the opportunity to serve in what I believe is a great, reforming Government.

“I think he is an outstanding Prime Minister. There is, as far as I can see, only one significant issue on which we have differed. And that is the future of the UK in the European Union.”

Brigg and Goole MP Andrew Percy was among Yorkshire Conservatives declaring they would also campaign against the Prime Minister in the referendum.

But Mr Cameron’s campaign was given an early boost by confirmation that Home Secretary Theresa May will be backing the ‘remain’ camp.

Earlier today, Chancellor George Osborne said the package “addressed the major concerns that many people have had” and warned that quitting the EU was “a huge leap in the dark with the risks that entails for our country, for its economy and for our security”.

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