Osborne Says ‘a Lot to Be Scared About’ If U.K. Quits EU

Key Speakers At The Commonwealth Games Business Conference

George Osborne.

Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg
  • Tory lawmaker switches to ‘Remain’ over ‘untrue’ NHS claims
  • Former Prime Ministers Blair and Major to speak in N. Ireland

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne hit back at claims he’s scaremongering in his campaign to keep Britain in the European Union, saying “there is a lot to be scared about.”

QuickTake Will Britain Leave the EU?

Osborne rejected accusations he had misrepresented Treasury analysis of the consequences of a vote to leave the EU on June 23 and overstated the impact of an exit on the economy and house prices.

“If we vote to leave, then we lose control,” he said in an interview on BBC Television late Wednesday. “If we lose control of the economy, we lose control of everything. People should be under no illusions.”

Both the “Remain” and “Leave” camps have been criticized for misrepresenting facts in a campaign that’s split the ruling Conservative Party. The push for Brexit has been gaining momentum as it narrows the debate on immigration, with recent polls suggesting “Remain” campaign’s focus on the economic fallout is not getting through to voters and that the race remains tight.

Nevertheless, some of Vote Leave’s claims have created unease among its members. Tory lawmaker Sarah Wollaston, who chairs Parliament’s health select committee, said she would switch sides and vote “Remain” over the camp’s claim that Brexit would free up 350 million pounds ($508 million) for the National Health Service as it “simply isn’t true.” The claim has already been labelled misleading by the Treasury Committee, which has asked the campaign to stop using the slogan.

“They have knowingly placed a financial lie at the heart of their campaign, even emblazoning it on their battle bus alongside the NHS branding to imply a financial bonanza,” Wollaston wrote on her website. “Far from a ‘Leave’ dividend there would be an economic penalty and the NHS would suffer the consequences.”

Former Prime Ministers John Major and Tony Blair are scheduled to speak together in Northern Ireland on Thursday to warn of a constitutional crisis if Britain quits the EU. The joint appearance is the latest example of political foes coming together to make the case against Brexit.

The former premiers will say that the peace settlement which they negotiated in Northern Ireland will be under threat if Britain leaves the bloc, the Independent newspaper reported. A Brexit vote also has the potential to break up the U.K., they will say.

Market Turbulence

Osborne said market turbulence would erupt in the “hours and days” after a vote to quit the EU. And there was no guarantee the Bank of England would be able to cut interest rates to prop up the economy as policy makers may be fighting resurgent inflation caused by a depreciating pound. “You can’t take it for granted,” he said.

The chancellor’s warnings of the economic consequences of Britain leaving has been consistently contested by the Brexit camp. JCB Service Chairman Anthony Bamford, who said he’ll vote for an exit, on Wednesday wrote a letter to his employees explaining his reasons and stating he believed his company would perform just as well outside the bloc.

“I believe the JCB and the U.K. can prosper just as much outside the EU, so there is very little to fear if we do choose to leave,” he said.

Osborne said that the government could still meet its goal of reducing migration to less than 100,000 people a year -- less than a third of the current level -- though he said the figure, part of the Tory pre-election manifesto, is an “ambition” rather than a forecast. Curbs on the rights of migrants to claim in-work welfare benefits and a recovering European economy will help, he said.

He dismissed the claims of some Brexit supporters that Turkey will soon join the EU, giving its 80 million people the freedom to live and work in Britain. The chancellor, 45, said the country would not be part of EU in his “lifetime.” The remarks prompted Vote Leave to demand a clarification of the government’s position on Turkish accession.

He also said that Britain should not become the “mean, divisive” vision set out by anti-immigration and pro-Brexit U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage. Farage made immigration the focus of his campaign in a televised audience debate on Tuesday night.

“I am a father of two children and I don’t want to look around to them in 20 years’ time and say, you know, Britain used to be a great success, used to be connected to the world, but we took a decision and we retreated from that world,” Osborne said.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE