David Cameron last night invoked Churchill in an impassioned appeal to voters not to give up on the European Union but “stay and fight” Britain’s corner.
As campaigning in the referendum resumed following the death of Labour MP Jo Cox, the Prime Minister said it would be a “tragedy” if the country voted to leave the EU, wrecking future job prospects on the basis of false claims.
Appearing in front of a BBC Question Time audience in Milton Keynes, he said a vote for Brexit on Thursday would be “irreversible” as he urged people to “think very carefully” before casting their votes.
Clearly stung by one man in the audience who likened him to a “21st century Neville Chamberlain” in presenting his renegotiation of EU benefits rules, Mr Cameron evoked the wartime spirit of Winston Churchill to urge voters to carry on the fight for British values within Europe.
“If we choose to leave, we can leave but let’s be clear if we do leave we are walking out the door, we are quitting, we are giving up on this organisation which even if we leave will have a huge effect on our lives, our children, on our opportunities, on our businesses,” he said.
“I don’t think Britain at the end is a quitter. I think we stay and fight. That is what we should do. That is what made our country great and that’s how it will be great in the future.
“At my office I sit two yards away from the Cabinet Room where Winston Churchill decided in May 1940 to fight on against Hitler – the best and greatest decision anyone has made in our country.
“He didn’t want to be alone, he wanted to be fighting with the French and with the Poles and with the others but he didn’t quit. He didn’t quit on Europe, he didn’t quit on European democracy, he didn’t quit on European freedom.
“We want to fight for those things today. You can’t win, you can’t fight, if you are not in the room. You can’t win a football match if you are not on the pitch.”
The monologue won applause, but it was a rare highlight in a difficult evening for the Prime Minister, who faced tough questions on immigration and his support for Turkish accession to the EU.
Mr Cameron defended his position on supporting Turkish membership of the EU, saying it would ultimately help improve democracy and respect for human rights in the country.
But after repeatedly being challenged on whether he would veto Turkish accession, having said Turkey would not join the EU until “the year 3000”, he was forced to say he would “not support” a membership bid if it came before him in the next two years.
The Prime Minister repeated Chancellor George Osborne’s warning that a vote for Brexit would mean the government having to stage an emergency budget, raising taxes and cutting spending, in response to the expected damage to the economy – something that was branded by one audience member a “punishment for voters, which would risk pushing the economy into a depression when it would already be reeling from the shock of Brexit”.
Mr Cameron said that “nobody wants to have cuts to public spending or putting up taxes”.
Challenged over his previous claim that IS leaders want Britain to quit the EU, Mr Cameron said: “I think the terrorists that want to do us harm, want the West to be divided. They don’t want Britain and France and Belgium and Germany to work together to defeat terrorism. They’d like to see us separate from each other.”