Boris Johnson has stepped up his public attacks on David Cameron and George Osborne as he accused Downing Street of setting up “hostage videos” of pro-EU business leaders to mislead the public.
Relations between the leading Conservatives appeared to hit a new low as Johnson intensified his complaints in characteristically colourful language that No 10 was orchestrating an establishment plot to keep Britain in the EU.
“People often don’t understand when they see these Downing Street hostage videos of these people … giving endorsements for the remain campaign that they are not speaking for the vast majority of British business that is not of that scale and are weighed by these kinds of extra costs,” he said.
Pro-Brexit bosses include retirees and tax avoidance experts
He was responding after Osborne had said warnings about the impact of Brexit from the International Monetary Fund and Bank of England were “not conspiracy but consensus”.
Speaking at Stansted airport in Essex, the chancellor went on to mock the leave campaign, suggesting it would soon be “accusing us of faking the moon landings, kidnapping Shergar and covering up the existence of the Loch Ness monster”.
At the same event, Michael O’Leary, the Ryanair boss, became the latest senior business figure to warn against leaving the EU. “Air fares and the cost of holidays will rise: that’s not speculation, that’s a fact,” O’Leary said.
However, Johnson argued it was no surprise that senior establishment figures wanted to stay in the EU and support big companies that awarded “nauseating” levels of executive pay at the expense of workers.
Despite being a regular guest at Davos, the annual elite gathering of business leaders in Switzerland, Johnson said: “It’s not a conspiracy theory. It’s obvious what is happening. The EU is a zone of low growth. The one group of people benefiting are chief executives of big companies that are taking more and more out while those on the shop floor are getting in real terms less and less.
“In my view the problem with the whole setup is that it does benefit a minority of businesses who are able to interact with policymakers, with Davos man and woman, and businesses like the one we just went to are not and they feel 100% of the cost.”
The former mayor of London took an aim at Osborne and others, who he said were were in “danger of talking down the economy” with their warnings about Brexit, to the extent that it might cause financial problems. He claimed many official predictions about the benefits of European projects such as the euro had turned out to be wrong, suggesting evidence for the Loch Ness monster was “considerably better than Treasury forecasts”.
The battle between the two sides is playing out against a backdrop of a possible Conservative leadership contest if Cameron resigns in the event of Brexit or a very narrow remain vote.
Johnson is the favourite contender to succeed Cameron as Conservative leader, a role that is picked by the largely pro-Brexit membership of the party. Osborne’s chances of succeeding Cameron in No 10 would probably be killed off if there is a leadership vote soon after the referendum.
George calls in Ed and Vince to try to convince the Eurosceptics
Returing to Cameron, Johnson went on to criticise the prime minister for appearing to change his mind about whether the UK could flourish outside the EU. “The PM before the renegotiations in Brussels was saying that he was absolutely sure, no question, we would get a free trade deal. He said he was perfectly prepared to walk away: what’s changed?”
In yet another attack on his own government, he told workers it was a “scandal” that the government’s immigration policy had led to longer A&E waiting times.
Johnson was also unrepentant about having suggested the EU had the same goal as Hitler in trying to unify Europe, arguing the criticism of him was hysteria by the remain camp and the media.
Amid the bitter splits in the Tory party, John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, will give a speech on Tuesday promising to “rescue the debate from the negativity and ‘Project Fear’ coming from all sides of the Tory party”.
The chancellor had used a joint appearance on Monday with two of his long-time political sparring partners, the former shadow chancellor Ed Balls and Lib Dem former business secretary Vince Cable, to argue that there was an overwhelming consensus among experts that leaving the European Union would be, “a one way ticket to a poorer Britain”.
Balls said he respected the chancellor for refusing to cave in to Conservative Eurosceptics, comparing it to his own judgment that Britain should stay out of the single currency when Labour was in power.
“It would have been much easier politically to go along with the Brexiteers in his own party, but George hasn’t done that, because he knows it would be the wrong thing for Britain’s national interest.”
Standing in a hangar at Stansted airport, against the backdrop of a Ryanair plane emblazoned with the message: “Stronger, Safer, Better Off in Europe”, Balls said: “There are times to set party politics aside, and this is one of those moments.”
Cable, who had repeated run-ins with Osborne when the two were ministers in the coalition government, said his presence underlined how important he believed the issue was for the future of the country. Cable said: “Divorce can be amicable; but much more commonly it’s messy, nasty and costly and that would be what would happen here.”
Courtesy : theguardian.com