David Cameron has dramatically ramped up his rhetoric in the EU referendum with a warning that so-called Islamic State would be pleased by Brexit.
In what critics saw as an attempt to scare the voters into voting ‘Remain’ on June 23, the Prime Minister said that IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi “might be happy” if the UK quits the EU.
Cameron’s words, at the end of a question and answer session in the City of London, were swiftly seized on by his opponents as the latest ‘Project Fear’ strategy deployed by Downing Street.
The PM also repeated his line that “Putin might be happy” with Brexit too, but this was the first time publicly that he has suggested that the Islamist terrorist group would exploit Britain leaving the European Union.
After a Mansion House speech attacking the ‘myths’ of the Vote Leave campaign, Cameron hit back at those - including Boris Johnson - who accused him last week of warning Europe would descend into conflict after a Brexit vote.
"I never said if we leave on the Thursday, World War Three breaks out on the Friday,” he said.
"The point I made, and make again today, is simply this: when you have got a continent that has had so much conflict, and so many problems, when you have found a way of working together, through Nato and through the European Union you should think very, very carefully before giving it up."
And he refused to back down on his claim that the UK’s safety and security would be put at risk by the UK opting out of the European Arrest Warrant and ending its current intelligence sharing and other links with EU states.
“It’s worth asking the question: who would be happy if we left? Putin might be happy. I suspect Al-Baghdadi might be happy.”
"But our friends around the world are giving us a very clear message; they are saying it’s all up to you, it is your sovereign choice.. our friends in Australia and New Zealand and America and all around the world and all around Europe are saying we would like you to stay."
Cameron also seized on Nigel Farage’s hint in the Mirror today that there could be a second referendum if the result is narrow.
The PM said the EU referendum is a “once in a generation, once in a lifetime opportunity”.
“When people start arguing for a second referendum before you have even had the first one, that clearly demonstrates you are leaving the argument. And I think the Leave campaign are losing the argument.
"And I’m absolutely clear: a referendum is a referendum. It is a once in a generation, once in a lifetime opportunity.
"And the result determines the outcome. If we vote to stay, we stay and that’s it. And if we vote to leave, we leave, and that’s it. You can’t have neverendums. You have referendums."
However, some Tory MPs believe that they can keep up the pressure on Boris Johnson to get him too to back a future referendum if there is a narrow Remain vote in June.
With the Tory party certain to face a fresh leadership contest to replace Cameron before 2020, some in the party believe it will be dominated by demands for candidates to commit to a second referendum in the event of a close result.
'Brexit' campaigners reacted with incredulity.