An “angry” John Major has launched a brutal assault on the “squalid” Brexit campaign being run by Tories Boris Johnson and Michael Gove.
In a furious assault on the Leave campaign, the Conservative former Prime Minister attacked its “deceitful” claims and accused Brexit backers of “misleading” the public.
Taking aim at the former London mayor, Sir John said the “court jester” would not have the loyalty of Conservative MPs if he becomes party leader.
The NHS would be “about as safe” in the hands of Mr Johnson, the Justice Secretary and former Cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith as a “pet hamster would be with a hungry python”, he claimed.
Sir John told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show: “Firstly on the economy and what would happen if we actually left, the Leave campaign have said absolutely nothing to the British people and what they have said about leaving is fundamentally dishonest and it’s dishonest about the cost of Europe. And on the subject that they have veered towards, having lost the economic argument, of immigration, I think their campaign is verging on the squalid.”
He added: “I am angry at the way the British people are being misled, this is much more important than a general election, this is going to affect people, their livelihoods, their future, for a very long time to come and if they are given honest straightforward facts and they decide to leave, then that is the decision the British people take. But if they decide to leave on the basis of inaccurate information, inaccurate information known to be inaccurate, then I regard that as deceitful.”
Mr Johnson dismissed Sir John’s stinging assessment, insisting it was “not true” that the Leave’s claims about Britain sending £350 million a week to Brussels was “fictitious” or the campaign was “squalid”.
Asked if he believed the attacks against him were part of a plot to “take him out”, the former London mayor, told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show: “Whether it is or not, I’m rather with John McDonnell this morning who says that there is too much of this blue on blue action and what he wants to hear is the arguments and that’s where I am.”
Mr Johnson said it was “absolute nonsense” that he was backing Brexit out of personal leadership ambitions.
“Obviously there is going to be a temptation by one side or the other to try to turn it into a personality-driven conversation. My view about the EU has changed but that is because the EU has changed out of all recognition.”
Mr Johnson claimed the UK’s population could rise “inexorably”, potentially as high as 80 million. The Conservative failed to reject a Vote Leave poster claiming that David Cameron cannot be trusted on immigration, saying it was “frustrating” that the Government had failed to meet its pledge to reduce migration to the tens of thousands. The Prime Minister “didn’t get a sausage” from his renegotiations on Britain’s relationship with Brussels, he added.
Pressed to row back from the comparison he made between Adolf Hitler and the European Union, he said: “I don’t write the headlines.” Mr Johnson, who has Turkish heritage, defended the Leave campaign’s claims about Turkey’s future membership of the EU. “Frankly, I don’t mind whether Turkey joins the EU, provided the UK leaves the EU,” he added.
Pressed on his previous support for Turkish accession, he insisted “that was back in the days when some of us thought that widening the EU would not mean this federalising, centralising, deepening process that we have seen”.
“The EU has changed out of all recognition since people like me first started advocating Turkish membership,” he added.
Vote Leave chief executive Matthew Elliott accused Sir John of looking “slightly mad”. He tweeted: “Major’s interview sad. He used to get away with ad hominem attacks becaise people sympathised with him. Now they’re so frequent he looks slightly mad.”
Armed Forces Minister Penny Mordaunt said: “The ‘In’ campaign had an opportunity to properly engage in the debate on Sunday and explain why the risks of remaining in the EU are worth it.
“Instead all they were able to offer was name calling and an attempt to rewrite history, rather than a serious debate about the issues. The British people deserve better than that.”