David Cameron gave his most impassioned defence of British EU membership on Friday night, as he confirmed that he would fight “heart and soul” to keep the UK in the 28-member bloc.
After months of hinting that he could campaign for a Brexit if he did not get a good deal in Brussels, Mr Cameron confirmed that he would lead the fight for Britain to stay in “a reformed EU” in a referendum expected on June 23.
Speaking at a late-night press conference, Mr Cameron claimed that he had secured “the overwhelming majority of what I set out to achieve” and that the new deal enshrined Britain’s “special status” in the union.
“I don’t love Brussels, I love Britain,” he said. “My job is to do all in my power to protect Britain’s interests.” He said that the UK could best defend its economic and national security from within the European project.
But his relief at securing a deal in Brussels was tempered by confirmation that Michael Gove, the justice secretary, would campaign for a Brexit, raising the spectre of other loyalist ministers taking the same position.
“He’s one of my oldest and closest friends,” Mr Cameron said. “He has wanted to get Britain to pull out for 30 years. I’m disappointed we won’t be on the same side. I’m disappointed but not surprised.”
The prime minister declined to speculate on whether Boris Johnson, the London mayor, might join Mr Gove in the Brexit camp, insisting: “In the end this isn’t the politicians’ show, it’s the people’s show.”
Mr Cameron’s press conference gave a glimpse of the In campaign’s increasing focus on the EU’s role in protecting European security against the threat of terrorism or Russian revanchism.
“This is my view. It is the time for us to stick together, a time for strength in numbers,” he said. “This is a historic moment for Britain,” he concluded.