LONDON • He was accused of hypocrisy, scaremongering and a failing common among politicians worldwide - waffling.
Yet British Prime Minister David Cameron kept his cool under pressure as he appealed to Britons to remain in the European Union (EU) during the first major television forum before the country's referendum on whether to stay.
During the hour-long broadcast on Sky News on Thursday, Mr Cameron was pressed repeatedly by an interviewer over the high levels of immigration into Britain. After that came a combative town hall-style session with an audience of voters.
And while it might not prove a decisive moment for the June 23 referendum, the debate could energise a campaign that has shown relatively few signs of igniting public interest.
During the broadcast, Mr Cameron pointed out the economic risks of quitting the EU, arguing that leaving its single market of about 500 million people would be an "act of self-harm", and appealing to voters not to "roll a dice" on the economic future of their children and grandchildren.
A succession of institutions, including the International Monetary Fund, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the Bank of England, have echoed Mr Cameron's warnings of the likely adverse economic consequences of a withdrawal, known as Brexit.
I'm an English literature student; I know waffling when I see it.
MS SORAYA BOUAZZAOUI, a member of the audience who was dissatisfied with a response from Mr Cameron.
But from the start of his interview on Sky News, Mr Cameron was pressed by its political editor, Mr Faisal Islam, on the issue of immigration and on his government's failure to keep its pledge to restrict the number of arrivals to below 100,000 people a year.
Migration has emerged as the strongest issue for those campaigning for Britain to quit the European Union. They argue that Britain will never be able to control immigration as a member of the union because citizens of countries inside the bloc can live and work in other member nations, and Britain, with its relatively successful economy, has attracted many workers from the east and south of Europe.
Perhaps the most memorable comment came from a member of the audience, Ms Soraya Bouazzaoui, who, when dissatisfied with a response from Mr Cameron, interjected: "I'm an English literature student; I know waffling when I see it."
Mr Cameron responded calmly, insisting that claims from his opponents that millions of Turkish citizens would soon be able to live in Britain were fanciful. Turkey is unlikely to join the European Union soon, he said, pointing out that talks on its membership had stalled and that Britain and every other member nation could veto its entry.
He also defended himself from accusations of "hypocrisy and scaremongering" for campaigning against Brexit alongside the new London mayor, Mr Sadiq Khan, of the opposition Labour Party.
During the mayoral election campaign, Mr Cameron had repeated accusations that Mr Khan had spoken at events where people with ties to Islamist extremists also spoke.
Mr Cameron's governing Conservative Party is deeply split over the referendum, and the format of pre-referendum television debates has proved controversial.
Hoping to limit damage to his party, Mr Cameron is avoiding a head-to-head confrontation with members of his Cabinet who support a British withdrawal. So Justice Secretary Michael Gove was scheduled to make the case for Brexit in a separate programme.
NEW YORK TIMES