Ex-Premier Major Slams Brexit Camp as Leave Momentum Builds

  • Major says he’s angry about ‘squalid’ Brexit campaign
  • Johnson says U.K. would leave EU single market after Brexit

Former U.K. Prime Minister John Major took aim at Brexit proponents on Sunday, calling their campaign squalid, underscoring how rattled the ‘Remain’ campaign is after a series of polls showed a narrowing margin over ‘Leave.’

Major dismissed former London Mayor Boris Johnson as a court jester in his defense of the U.K.’s European Union membership in a BBC television interview. The ferocious debate has split the governing Conservative party down the middle, with the fates of Johnson, Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne tied to the outcome of the June 23 referendum.

Polls show the race tightening in the past week, spooking some investors who had bet that ‘Remain’ was on course to prevail. A poll published Sunday in the Observer showed ‘Leave’ ahead by 43 percent to 41 percent. On Sunday, bookmaker Ladbrokes Plc said that support for the ‘Leave’ camp has showed no signs of slowing down.

John Major interviewed on June 5.
John Major interviewed on June 5.
Photographer: Jeff Overs/BBC

‘Leave’ proponents have begun “to feed out to the British people a whole galaxy of inaccurate and frankly untrue information,” Major said. “What they have not done is to tell us what would be the position if we get a vote to leave. I think it would be chaotic and damaging, and I think the people who would suffer the most would be the ordinary man and woman in the street.”

With just under three weeks to go until Britons vote, both sides are intensifying their rhetoric. Brexit campaigner Johnson said in a BBC interview Sunday that the U.K. wouldn’t be part of the single market if it voted to leave, and that the nation could take back control of its laws and borders. Fellow Conservative Michael Gove said in an ITV interview that migration would be lower in the event of an exit.

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“Having lost the economic argument, I think their campaign is verging on the squalid,” Major said. “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.”

In his interview, Johnson said his claims that Britain sends 350 million pounds ($508 million) a week to Brussels and that Turkey is on track to join the EU were credible.

‘Worryingly Undemocratic’

“There is something worryingly undemocratic about the EU as it is currently set up,” Johnson said. ‘Remain’ campaigners need to answer questions about how public services will cope with continued migration, he said. Johnson and Major are both members of the Conservative party.

Penny Mordaunt, a Tory member of parliament, said that Major had no answer for the British public on the risks of staying in the world’s largest trading bloc.

“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,” she said in an e-mailed statement. “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.”

Both sides have accused each other of scaremongering, ‘Leave’ on immigration and ‘Remain’ on the economy. The campaign to stay in the EU released research showing leaving may add 920 pounds to the annual cost of the average mortgage, as tighter credit conditions push up home-loan rates.

‘Instant Shocks’

“Nearly all experts agree there will instant shocks to the economy if we leave the EU,” Cameron said in an e-mailed statement. “There is a clear and present danger of higher mortgage rates.”

The chances of Britain voting to leave the EU equate to 29 percent, according to the odds quoted by Ladbrokes. ‘Remain’ is still rated the strong favorite, the company said in a press release.

“Punters are backing ‘Leave’ like it’s going out of fashion,” said Jessica Bridge of Ladbrokes in an e-mailed statement. “If the money continues it won’t be long before the odds shorten once again.”

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