David Cameron has styled himself the leader of “Project Fact”, dismissing claims that he is trying to scare voters into remaining in the EU.
The prime minister, who has repeatedly characterised a decision to leave the EU as a “leap in the dark”, has been accused of playing up the risks of Brexit in a strategy dubbed “Project Fear”.
But speaking to students in Ipswich on Monday, he presented an upbeat picture of Britain’s future inside the EU, saying: “The only project I’m interested in is Project Fact. Project Fact is about saying: ‘Stay in and you know what you’ll get.’”
He spoke of the benefits of unfettered access to the European single market, and argued that Britain had a more powerful influence over global affairs in partnership with other EU countries than it could have alone. “I’m interested in Britain’s ability to bend the world to our way of thinking,” he said.
As the war of words raging at the top of the Conservative party intensified over the weekend, Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, accused the prime minister of having a “low opinion of the British people” in doubting the country’s ability to go it alone.
But Cameron said: “I have the highest opinion of the British people; I am a huge believer in our country, but I think that a greater Britain can be achieved inside the EU.”
The prime minister also sought to play down the escalating row over the restrictions placed by Whitehall on ministers who will campaign for Britain to leave the EU.
Priti Patel, the employment minister, earlier described the cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood’s decision to limit the support civil servants can provide to pro-Brexit ministers as “unconstitutional”, but Cameron said: “I think this has got completely out of proportion.”
He said the restrictions were reasonable because “the government isn’t neutral on this: the government has a clear position”.
The Cabinet Office published a detailed document on Sunday warning of what the prime minister called a “decade of uncertainty” if Britain leaves the EU, as politicians would have to negotiate with the 27 other member states and then with non-EU countries such as China, India and the US over the terms of access to their markets.
Chris Grayling, the leader of the House of Commons and one of the six cabinet members who favour Brexit, dismissed the report as “completely ludicrous”.
Cameron said he planned to publish another study later this week setting out the alternatives to EU membership.
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