Boris Johnson and his fellow Brexit campaigners are running a “deceitful” campaign which is “depressing and awful”, former Prime Minister Sir John Major said today.
In a no-holds-barred interview this morning, the ex-Tory leader repeatedly attacked both the tactics and arguments used by Vote Leave as it tried to persuade Brits to quit the EU in the June 23 referendum.
The former Prime Minister, whose seven years in Downing Street in the 1990s were marked by Tory splits over the EU, accused Brexit campaigners of pumping out “a whole galaxy of inaccurate and frankly untrue information.”
He also mocked the notion that leaving the EU would benefit the NHS – one of Vote Leave’s primary claims – as he accused those at the top of the anti-EU group of wanting to privatise the health system.
Speaking on The Andrew Marr Show on BBC One this morning, Sir John said: “Throughout the whole of my political life people have regarded me of being guilty of understatement.
"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 to come and if they are given honest, straightforward facts and they decide to leave, then that is the decision the British people take.
“But if they decide to leave on the basis of inaccurate information, inaccurate information known to be inaccurate, then I regard that as deceitful. Now, I maybe wrong, but that is how I see their campaign.
He added: “For once I’m not going to give the benefit of the doubt to other people, I’m going to say exactly what I think and I think this is a deceitful campaign and in terms of what they are saying about immigration, it’s a really depressing and awful campaign. They are misleading people to an extraordinary extent.”
Sir John claimed that Leave campaigners were now focusing on immigration as they had “lost the economic argument”, but they rhetoric around migration was “verging on the squalid”.
Pro-Brexit campaigners earlier this week called for the Government to pledge an extra £100million a week for the NHS if the UK voted to leave the EU.
Sir John poured scorn on the notion that those at the top of Vote Leave had the NHS’s best interests at heart.
He said: “The concept that the people running the Brexit campaign would care for the National Health Service is a rather odd one.
“I seem to remember Michael Gove wanted to privatise it, Boris wanted to charge people for using it and Iain Duncan Smith wanted a social insurance system.
“The NHS is about as safe with them as a pet hamster would be with a hungry python.”
When asked if he felt leading Brexit campaigner Boris Johnson could become Tory leader after the referendum, Sir John offered some "friendly advice".
"He's a very engaging and charming court jester and a very engaging and charming public figure and he's very likeable.
"If the Leave campaign led by Boris continue to divide the Conservative Party as they are doing at the present time and if Boris has the laudable ambition to become Prime Minister, he will find if he achieves that he will not have the loyalty of the party he divided.
"Iain Duncan Smith was serially disloyal in the 1990s. When he became leader he was surprised no one was loyal to him.
"Boris should learn from that."
Appearing on the same programme moments later, Johnson refused to be drawn on Sir John's personal attack.
He said: "There’s going to be a temptation by one side or the other, particularly the remain side to try to turn it into a personality driven conversation.
"My view of the EU has changed but that is because the EU has changed out of all recognition."