Labour’s Alan Johnson has ridiculed Iain Duncan Smith after he claimed the UK could face Paris-style terror attacks unless it quit the EU.
As the EU referendum descended into acrimony on just the second day of the campaign, Mr Johnson derided Mr Duncan Smith and five other Tory ‘Brexit’ ministers as “not the most astute bunch” of “political all-stars”.
A 'Gang of Six’ Cabinet-attending ministers - Mr Duncan Smith, Michael Gove, John Whittingdale, Chris Grayling, Theresa Villiers and Priti Patel - came out on Saturday to campaign for an EU exit.
But the Work and Pensions Secretary hit back at Mr Johnson, saying the former Cabinet minister “degrades himself” by making such personal attacks.
The spat came after Mr Duncan Smith sought to counter David Cameron’s claim that staying in the EU was the best way to protect Britain from threats overseas.
Speaking to BBC News’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg, he said that the PM’s benefit curbs would have some ‘small’ effect but the bigger issue was migration and possible terrorists being allowed into the EU as asylum seekers.
"This open border does not allow us to check and control people that may come and spend time," he said.
"We've seen what happened in Paris where they spent ages planning and plotting so who's to say it's not beyond the wit of man that those might already be thinking about that.”
Iain Duncan Smith, on BBC News
Asked directly whether he believed EU membership made the UK more vulnerable to Paris-style attacks, he replied: "I think the present status of the open border we have right now many of us feel does actually leave that door open and we need to see that resolved."
On the Andrew Marr show, Mr Cameron put national security at the heart of his own campaign to persuade voters to back the ‘Remain’ camp in the June 23 referendum.
The Prime Minister warned that with “Putin to the East, and ISIL/Daesh to the south”, the EU’s joint working on diplomacy, security and intelligence was crucial to defending itself from outside threats. He also pointed to the EU’s role in combatting Somali pirates and Iran’s nuclear programme.
And on Radio 4’s World This Weekend programme, Mr Johnson - who is heading up Labour’s ‘In’ campaign - derided Mr Duncan Smith’s and Mr Goves' claims that they'd seen first hand as ministers the obstacles Brussels put in the UK’s way.
The Six Cabinet-attending ministers who have backed the 'Vote Leave' campaign
Mr Johnson - a former Home Secretary, Education Secretary and Trade and Industry Secretary - also went on the offensive about the calibre of the 'Gang of Six' ministers who on Saturday backed Brexit.
“I wouldn’t say that the six Cabinet members that I saw yesterday could be described as the political all-stars,” Mr Johnson said.
“Let’s be kind. They're not the six most astute politicians that I've ever met in the cabinet.”
Alan Johnson, leader of Labour's 'In' campaign
Mr Duncan Smith hit back on the same programme. “I say to Alan very simply he degrades himself by saying things like that.
"I’m surprised at Alan being disparaging about anybody personally, frankly. I never thought politicians were all-stars anyway. No politician is a celebrity. If politicians begin to believe they are celebrities they need to go and sit down in a darkened room.
“The public are tired of having this idea that it is all about celebrity status.”