LONDON • Britain needs the European Union to help fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and rebuff a "newly belligerent" Russia, Prime Minister David Cameron has said, making a "big, bold, patriotic case" for membership of the bloc.
In a speech at the British Museum in central London yesterday, Mr Cameron drew on military history to set out the security argument for Britain to vote to remain in the EU at the June 23 referendum. He invoked the memory of war leader Winston Churchill to bolster his case that "isolationism has never served this country well".
While Churchill's Britain in 1940 "stood as a bulwark against a new dark age of tyranny and oppression", he hadn't wanted to be alone, Mr Cameron said. "In the post-war period he argued passionately for Western Europe to come together, to promote free trade and to build institutions which would endure so that our continent would never again see such bloodshed.
"I want to show that if you love this country, if you want to keep it strong in the world and keep our people safe, our membership of the EU is one of the tools that helps us to do these things," Mr Cameron told diplomats and campaigners.
"Britain has a fundamental national interest in maintaining common purpose in Europe to avoid future conflict between European countries. And that requires British leadership, and for Britain to remain a member."
He warned Britain that it could be exposed to greater threats if voters voted in favour of leaving the EU, underlining the role of security cooperation after dozens were killed in attacks by ISIS in Brussels and Paris. He was careful not to say a departure would cut ties, but underlined that a British exit, or Brexit, would "make cooperation more legally complex and make our access to vital information much slower".
He accused "Out" campaigners of wanting to turn back the clock by hoping that Britain's departure would trigger the demise of the EU - something he said would enhance the power of Russia to meddle in countries in central and eastern Europe, which were once behind the Iron Curtain. "Now is a time for strength in numbers. Now is the worst possible time for Britain to put that at risk," he said. "Only our adversaries will benefit."
It was the latest speech by Mr Cameron, who has spent weeks touring Britain to try to win over Britons who, according to opinion polls, are evenly split on which way to vote at the referendum.
The government, which is also divided over whether to stay in the 28-member bloc, had previously focused on economic arguments.
The referendum campaign was picking up pace again after regional and local elections last Thursday, with former London mayor Boris Johnson challenging Mr Cameron in a speech just hours later yesterday, saying his argument was "wholly bogus".
"I don't think the Prime Minister can seriously believe that leaving the EU would trigger war on the European continent," Mr Johnson said in another part of London. "I think this grossly underestimates the way Europe has changed and the Nato guarantee that has really underpinned peace in Europe."
He also used his speech to attack some of Mr Cameron's other key statements and blamed the EU for the current turmoil in the Ukraine.
"If you want an example of EU policymaking on the hoof and EU pretensions to running defence policy that have caused real trouble, then look at what has happened in the Ukraine," he said.