Prime Minister David Cameron endured a two-pronged attack on the European Union from senior Conservatives favouring a British exit, threatening further scars to the government before the June 23 referendum.
London Mayor Boris Johnson said on the BBC’s “Andrew Marr Show” that staying in the bloc is “the risky option,” and lamented the suspension of the chief of a business lobby group who had spoken out in favour of leaving. Justice Secretary Michael Gove told the Sunday Times that the EU had inflicted “pain” on Europe, where the far right is now stronger than “any time since the 1930s.”
The debate’s increase in temperature underscores the risk of longer-term damage to the ruling Conservative Party as it revisits a split that has plagued its time both in office and opposition since the 1970s. Johnson has accused the pro-EU camp of adopting a “Project Fear” approach to scaring people into staying in the bloc, and invoked similar sentiments on the BBC as he spoke of the opportunities that the referendum presented.
“This is like the jailer has accidentally left the door of the jail open and people can see the sunlit land beyond, and everybody is suddenly wrangling about the terrors of the world beyond,” he said. “Actually it will be wonderful.”
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, speaking on the same BBC program, warned though that if the U.K. votes to leave the EU, it will still have to “pay in” if it wants access to the European single market, and painted a bleak post-“Brexit” picture.
On Saturday, Johnson said it was “scandalous” that John Longworth, the British Chambers of Commerce director general, had been suspended for speaking out in favour of leaving the EU, the Sunday Telegraph reported. He had been “crushed” by the “agents” of the campaign led by Cameron, the paper cited Johnson as saying.
The Sunday Times highlighted Gove’s comments on how the far right in Europe has risen at a time of austerity, particularly in Greece. “Our security and sovereignty stand together,” Gove told the newspaper. “I believe that there are better opportunities to keep people safe if we are outside the European Union.”
The German finance minister said that a British exit would be damaging for the international economy as well as Britain’s own.
Yvette Cooper, a Labour Party lawmaker who favors Britain staying in the EU, criticized the spectacle and Cameron and Johnson, who knew each other when younger at the fee-paying Eton College.
“You’ve just got an increasingly hysterical battle for the future of the Tory party and they’re trying to hijack the future of the country,” Cooper told Sky News. “We cannot let them do that. This has got to be about our future as Britain and why we’ll be stronger in Europe, and not get sucked into a battle between old Etonians.”