Cameron sets EU vote date, urges public to avoid "leap in the dark"

British Prime Minister David Cameron on Saturday announced that a historic referendum on the country's membership in the European Union would be held on June 23.

"We are approaching one of the biggest decisions we will face in our lifetime - whether we want to remain in the European Union or leave," Cameron told reporters after meeting with his ministers to discuss a reform deal reached with leaders of the other 27 EU nations late Friday in Brussels.

He added that the decision "goes to the heart" of the nation's identity.

"I do not love Brussels, I love Britain," Cameron said.

"The question is, will we be safer, stronger and better off ... working together in a reformed Europe," he said. "I believe Britain will be stronger in a reformed Europe."

"Leaving Europe would threaten our economic and our national security," Cameron said, urging people not to take a "leap in the dark" by voting to leave.

Cameron said he had secured a deal to give Britain a "special status" in the EU, offering the "best of both worlds."

But he faces dissent from several ministers expected to join the "leave" campaign.

Among the dissenters in his cabinet is Justice Secretary Michael Gove, who is set to announce his decision to join the "leave" campaign, according to the BBC and other British media.

Speculation surrounds a handful of other ministers who could join the campaign for a British exit, or Brexit, while at least 65 members of the 330 members of parliament from Cameron's Conservative party have declared their support for Brexit and many others are expected to follow.

Many opposition politicians dismissed Friday's deal - which allows Britain to restrict EU migrants' welfare benefits and opt out of an obligation to build an "ever closer union" - as mainly designed for Cameron to rally Conservative Eurosceptics behind him.

Cameron "has done what he decided he had to do because he was too weak to stand up to his political party," shadow foreign secretary Hillary Benn, whose Labour party supports Britain remaining in the EU, told the BBC.

Nigel Farage, leader of the anti-EU UK Independence Party, said the deal was "not worth the paper it's written on."

Last update: Fri, 24/06/2016 - 08:49

More from Europe

Mattarella looking to usher in functioning Italian government quickly

Following crisis talks in Rome on Saturday, Italian President Sergio Mattarella said he will be taking steps soon to...

Austria to veto further EU accession talks with Turkey

Austria will block the continuation of EU talks with Ankara over Turkey's future membership in the bloc, Austrian...

Diplomats call for ceasefire in Aleppo at Paris meet

Foreign ministry officials from the West and the Middle East meeting in Paris Saturday for talks on Syria have...

French government seeks to extend state of emergency to July 2017

The French government said Saturday it would ask parliament to approve an extension to the country's state of...

No agreement reached between Russia, Ukraine on gas deliveries

Russian and Ukrainian officials failed to reach an agreement on gas deliveries this winter in a first round of EU-...