David Cameron has blasted as “complete fiction” a former Tory leader’s claim that Britain could obtain an improved reform deal from the EU by voting Leave in the referendum.
In a significant blow to the Prime Minister’s campaign to keep Britain in the EU, Michael Howard said Mr Cameron’s renegotiation of the UK’s membership had “met with failure” and urged voters to back withdrawal.
And government minister Andrea Leadsom, who is campaigning for the UK to quit, dismissed as “unlikely” Chancellor George Osborne’s assessment that leaving the EU would cause a “profound economic shock” for Britain.
Lord Howard, a former mentor of Mr Cameron, used an article to argue that the UK should vote for Brexit to “shake Europe’s leaders out of their complacency”, arguing there would be “a significant chance that they would ask us to think again”.
Mr Cameron has dismissed talk of a second referendum as being “for the birds”, insisting he would respond to a Leave vote by immediately triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which sets out a two-year process for negotiating terms for withdrawal.
But Lord Howard suggested he could pause the process by up to a month for EU leaders to come back with a better deal for Britain. “I think it is quite likely that during that month they would say ‘let’s talk some more, let’s see if we can reach a different agreement and perhaps you could have a second referendum’. If, after a month or so they don’t, then Article 50 would have to be triggered and negotiations to leave would begin,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
But the Prime Minister insisted that voters will be making “a single decision, a final decision” on 23 June.
Asked about Lord Howard’s comments during a visit to an aviation factory near Cardiff, the PM said: “This idea that there is some third way – as some are suggesting – between in and out, that we vote out in order to have another renegotiation, another referendum, I think that is a complete fiction.
“It’s a very simple question on the ballot paper – you either remain in the European Union or you leave the European Union. I think people really to need understand that it’s a single decision, it’s a final decision, and there are only two choices.”
Meanwhile, the Chancellor warned about the economic impact of Brexit during a visit to Shanghai for a summit of G20 finance ministers.