- Iain Duncan Smith says premier's integrity is being damaged
- Campaign will resonate beyond June 23, pensions secretary says
Prime Minister David Cameron’s integrity is being damaged by his “scaremongering” campaign for Britain to stay in the European Union and it will have lasting consequences, said Iain Duncan Smith, one of the most senior members of his cabinet and an leading advocate of leaving the bloc.
Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary who has been responsible for broad-ranging welfare reforms since 2010, said the prime minister is not being “respectful” to colleagues whom he gave permission to campaign for Britain to leave the EU before the referendum on June 23.
Cameron’s campaign has “become characterized by spin, smears and threats,” Duncan Smith wrote in an article for the Daily Mail newspaper published Friday. “The acrimonious manner in which all this has been conducted is troubling, and will I fear have consequences long beyond June 23. After all, such desperate and unsubstantiated claims are now being made that they begin to damage the very integrity of those who make them in the eyes of the public.”
The campaign to stay in the EU, which has been led by Cameron and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne and has centered on the economic and security threats of leaving the 28-nation bloc, is entrenching divisions, Duncan Smith said. Cameron is threatening “almost biblical consequences” if Britain leaves -- a so-called Brexit -- to compensate for his failure to deliver fundamental reform to the EU, he said.
The splits on display in the Conservative cabinet in the two weeks since Cameron called the referendum raise questions about how unity can be restored after the vote. A failure by the prime minister to achieve a clear victory for staying in the EU might open the way to an early challenge to his leadership.
“Some people are now determined to make out that if Britain were to leave, all the potential scenarios would be perilous,” Duncan Smith wrote. “If that really were the case, wouldn’t it have been deeply irresponsible for the same people to have put the question to the British people in the first place?”
London Mayor Boris Johnson, who electrified the referendum campaign by defying Cameron and declaring in favor of quitting the EU, added to the pressure on the prime minister from his own ranks. Cameron’s agreement with his fellow EU leaders last month will mean “no real change” and would hamstring future attempts to win reforms, Johnson said.
“We will never be able credibly to argue for any reform in Europe again,” Johnson, a member of Cameron’s political cabinet and one of the favorites to succeed him as party leader, said in an interview with the Evening Standard newspaper. “We will be signed up to this thing lock, stock and barrel -- hook, line and sinker.”
Cameron’s spokeswoman, Helen Bower, defended the tone of the campaign and said ministers are working together on other aspects of government in spite of their divisions over Europe.
“This government has an important agenda and is getting on with it ahead of the referendum and will continue to do so afterwards,” she told reporters in London. The prime minister wants to “put the facts” to voters so they can decide “based on the reality of what remaining in a reformed European Union would mean for the U.K. versus the number of unanswered questions there are around leaving.”