LIVE WIRE: David Cameron Grilled On Sky News

Prime Minister David Cameron is appearing on Sky News tonight in the first major set piece television event of the the European Union (EU) referendum campaign.

Mr. Cameron hopes to make the case for remaining in the EU, under questioning from a live studio audience and Sky News presenters Faisal Islam and Kay Burley, at the same time as polls are showing the Leave campaign gaining ground after moving its focus towards immigration issues.


Ah! That’s why the Prime Minister didn’t have a good ‘Won’t somebody please think of the children?’ line

He was saving it for last.

Channeling his best Helen Lovejoy, the Prime Minister made his last word a plea to think of the children. Saying that “Britain doesn’t succeed when we quit” he also pleaded to voters “let us not roll a dice” on the future of “our children and our grandchildren.”


Yet another positive argument based on sunny optimism for membership of the EU

Asked if he was really suggesting that we would end up being bombed if we left the EU, Cameron says that 10 years ago he would have said the EU had little to do with security, but that having been Prime Minister he can now say that it does make a difference.

The audience isn’t buying it, and tell him that there’s good reasons of self-interest why such arrangements would outlast a Brexit.

The Prime Minister says the European Arrest Warrant is an example of what would be lost.


Project Fear then turns towards ‘the children’

The Prime Minister is asked: “What would you say to my children to persuade them to vote to stay in?”

One audience member says her children can’t even get entry-level jobs, in part “because of migrants” with more experience taking them.

The best Cameron can manage is to say they would have better opportunities if we stay in, and that in the event of a Brexit he would worry about them. You would have thought he might have had a better line on this.


Not that this is becoming about one issue, but we’re back to scaremongering

The Prime Minister refuses to accept that scaremongering in this campaign has damaged his reputation, claiming he is genuinely worried about damage done to British jobs in the event of a Brexit, such as those in the car industry. An audience member challenges him on why such jobs would inevitably be lost, pointing out we have no trade deal with America but plenty of trade.

Cameron replies that while that is true, trade deals like the Single Market are important. He gives the example of when the French imposed their ban on British beef, and the UK went to court to overturn the ban, pointing out that we still can’t sell beef to the U.S.


Turning to domestic politics, Cameron is asked if Boris Johnson would make a good Prime Minister

Describing his pro-Brexit colleague as a “very talented guy” with a lot to offer, he says he does not choose the next prime minister and will not put the ‘black spot’ on anyone by recommending them.

He admits to profound disagreements, but says there are disagreements within families and that is why we are having a referendum.


The next question brings up London’s recent mayoral campaign, and accuses Cameron of more scaremongering

The Prime Minister is reminded that he said Sadiq Khan, Labour’s successful mayoral candidate, was not to be trusted. Nevertheless he has now appeared on a platform with him. He is asked if that shows his hypocrisy and scaremongering?

Cameron replied that Khan won a lively election and so he needs to work with him. The fact they shared a platform on Europe shows the issue is bigger than politicians.

He also claims without irony that his problem is not with Khan himself, but some people he has chosen to share platforms with in the past.


This is not an easy ride for the Prime Minister


The questions then move on to the steel industry, and the Prime Minister calls in more of the ‘modern establishment’

Asked how the steel industry would be better off if the UK remains, the Prime Minister claims the EU can take joint action to deal with the problem caused by dumping by China.

Ignoring the fact that does not appear to have saved British steel he says manufacturers and the Trades Union Congress are at one and could not be clearer about wanting the UK to stay in.


And on to the National Health Service

Another audience question, this time on the NHS but also back on immigration.

Alison, a mental health nurse, says she’s worry about the “neverending stream” of EU migrants causing pressure on public services.

Trying to get back to the economy and once again ignoring immigration, the Prime Minister responds that the worst thing he could do for the NHS would be to leave, because the economy would suffer. He claims that is what Simon Stevens, head of NHS England, and the Royal College of Physicians have said.

He said that Jeremy Corbyn and the Green Party agree, which a woman in the audience dismisses as “the establishment”.

“I’m not sure you’d call Jeremy Corbyn the establishment to be entirely fair to him” he replies.


Turkey then rears its head in questions

A woman of Moroccan Muslim descent says she wanted to vote to Remain, but the entire campaign has been negative and given her no reason to do so. She asks how the Prime Minister can reassure us about staying in the EU when there are clearly risks, specifically Turkey.

The Prime Minister attempts to tell her what her question is about, and gets it wrong to her obvious annoyance.

To the audience’s delight she dismisses his response with the withering putdown: “I’m an English literature student, I know waffling when I see it.”

Cameron then reigns it in and rolls out his line about Turkey not becoming a member before the year 3000.


And on to questions from the audience

The first question asks whether the Prime Minister would apply to join the EU today. He replies that if the UK was offered what he has negotiated he would, saying: “I would join on British terms, with our special status.”

Kay Burley asks if that means he would accept the euro currency, the cost of anyone now joining the EU. The Prime Minister says he would not, because that’s not part of “Britain’s special status”.


Cameron gets on to the ‘Shock Effect’ of leaving the EU

And here comes ‘Project Fear’.

Cameron refuses Islam’s request for him to withdraw the Treasury claim that leaving the EU would leave households £4,300 worse off a year. The Treasury Select Committee last week said using the figure is misleading, because it does not refer to household disposable income, but to national income.

Cameron insists that it is a fair number as it represents the loss to the economy, divided by the number of households, and “if we leave the EU, we will be poorer.”

Islam then asks the question: “What comes first, World War III or the Global Brexit Recession.”

The audience laughs, the Prime Minister takes a sip of his water to calm his anger, and then accuses Islam of being glib, telling him he is conscious that 70 years ago countries he sits in meetings with were fighting each other.

Islam tells him he failed to get a deal, he failed to solve his party squabbles, and so he reached for a “classic Cameron campaign” which worked in the Scottish referendum and General Election – Project Fear.

Cameron says that listening to the IMF, G7, OECD etc. is merely “doing his job”.


The Prime Minister is feeling the heat


The Prime Minister then pulls it onto the Single Market

Would we be more sovereign if we weren’t in the Single Market but wanted to trade with it? According to the Prime Minister the answer is no. Getting out would be a “self-inflicted wound for Britain.”

Islam then points out that the Prime Minister’s own VAT pledge on solar panels, mentioned in the Queen’s Speech, was overruled by the European Court of Justice made up of Portugese and Bulgarian judges.

The Prime Minister said there are frustrations and “sometimes this organisation drives me crazy”, hence why he wanted to renegotiate membership, but that rules and regulations which annoy and frustrate are the price of access to the Single Market which is so valuable to successful industries like the UK car industry.

Islam suggested that negotiation had, therefore, failed.


Faisal Islam kicks off straight away with a question on met migration from the EU

667,000 is the number given for those who have come since David Cameron became Prime Minister, which Islam points out is not the tens of thousands promised in his election manifesto.

The Prime Minister claims that “extraordinary times” with a successful British economy have attracted people into the UK and that as the European economy recovers migration will reduce, adding that the pledge was an “ambition” not a policy.

Then, predictably, Cameron tries to take the subject on to the economy,  before Islam pulls him back to ask is he “seriously thinks” the pledge could be fulfilled.

Cameron really does not want to talk about immigration.


Sky News explains the format of the Prime Minister’s questioning

After Kay Burley briefly set out the format, she asked Sky Correspondent Robert Nisbet what he thinks David Cameron might get caught up on. He replied:

“I think that the hardest thing for him tonight is going to be immigration… I think that he’s going to want to try and turn it on to the economy because that’s where he feels happiest, because he has all of these international organisations like the G7, the IMF, behind him saying that there could be economic catastrophe if we were to leave.

“But the one area where I think Remain are really struggling at the moment is control of immigration and the pressure that puts on people around the country. And I think Vote Leave have been telling that side of the story much more effectively.”


The Prime Minister and Sky News Team Prepare


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