David Cameron has urged voters to “listen to our friends” when deciding how to vote in the EU referendum, after leaders of the G7 countries warned that withdrawal would be a “serious risk” to world growth.
In comments likely to be seized upon by pro-Brexit campaigners, the British prime minister acknowledged that the UK “can find our way” whatever the result of the June 23 vote.
But he pointed to assessments by international organisations like the G7, IMF and OECD as he asserted it was “undoubtedly the case” that there would be a significant economic cost to leaving the EU.
With the Leave camp arguing that Cameron cannot fulfil his promise to cut immigration while Britain remains in the EU, Mr Cameron accepted that the near-record 333,000 net figure for 2015 announced on Thursday was “disappointing”.
But he insisted that “wrecking” the economy by quitting the EU was not the way to get the numbers down.
“Let me say this to those who want to leave the single market and cause all the damage that would do to jobs and to growth and investment: I do not believe for one minute that the right way to control immigration is to wreck our economy,” said Mr Cameron, in a press conference at the conclusion of the G7 summit in Ise-Shima, Japan.
Pro-Brexit former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith accused the UK government of “an all-out attempt to try and get the British people to fear the future and to worry so much that they would not vote to leave”.
The former Tory leader told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I’m passionate about the fact that there is nothing that can stand in their way and if we are free of the European Union I am convinced that this great country will thrive and prosper – those are the words of the Prime Minister of course himself, before he decided to campaign to stay in.”
But Mr Cameron insisted he was not trying to “over-emphasise” the risks of EU withdrawal, and stood by his previous comments that Britain could do well outside the EU.
Denying he was a “closet Brexiteer”, as his former aide Steve Hilton has claimed, Cameron told reporters: “I withdraw absolutely nothing I’ve previously said. Britain is an amazing country. We can find our way whatever the British people choose.
“But the question for us is not are we a great country, have we got a brilliant economy, have we got talented businesses, have we got great entrepreneurs, have we got amazing universities, brilliant scientists? Can we go on as we have in the past, breaking new boundaries in all these areas? The question is how do we do best?
“It’s not just me saying that there are economic risks from Britain leaving the EU. It is now a pretty large consensus that includes people of impeccable independence and academic standing.”
The joint declaration issued by the leaders of the G7 countries – the UK, US, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and Canada – at the end of the two-day Ise-Shima summit, stated that “UK exit from the EU would reverse the trend toward greater global trade, investment and the jobs they create and is a further serious risk to growth”.
But the document appeared to hint at frustration that the risk of Brexit had been voluntarily created by Mr Cameron’s decision to hold a public vote, listing the referendum alongside terrorism and migration as “potential shocks of a non-economic origin” which threatened global stability.
The mention of Brexit in the official G7 declaration represents a victory for Cameron, but German chancellor Angela Merkel said the referendum was not discussed during formal discussions between the leaders.
“It was no subject here,” she told reporters. “But there was the signal that all who sat here want Britain to stay part of the EU.”
French president Francois Hollande said: “We didn’t strictly speaking talk about Brexit – it is not for us to say what the British people should be doing, this is a matter of sovereignty for the British people.”
But he added that the G7 leaders “did talk about the risk that could follow if the UK were to leave”, which he said would be “bad news for the UK as well as for the world”.
Mr Cameron said the issue of Brexit had been raised by “one or two” of his fellow leaders at the summit, and the final communique was “very clear about the economic dangers”.
“We should listen to our friends,” he said. “We should listen to people who want us to do well, who wish well of us in the world.
“When you are faced with a difficult decision, it is often a good thing to listen to what your friends think.
“It is not a question of over-emphasising what the economic risks are. It is undoubtedly the case that if you choose to leave the single market there is an economic cost involved.”