David Cameron has pleaded with voters to ignore the “complete untruths” of the Brexit campaign as polls continue to swing in favour of leaving the EU.
At a hastily-convened press conference yesterday, the Prime Minister called the honesty of his own ministers into question, saying Leave campaign leaders including Michael Gove and Boris Johnson were making “a series of assertions that turn out to be completely untrue”.
Speaking ahead of a TV showdown with Nigel Farage last night, Mr Cameron targeted six claims by the Leave campaign on the economy and the prospect of the UK joining an EU army which he said were false. The Prime Minister condemned “a Leave campaign resorting to total untruths to con people into taking a leap in the dark,” adding: “It’s irresponsible and it’s wrong and it’s time that the Leave campaign was called out on the nonsense that they are peddling.”
In a swipe at Michael Gove, who last week claimed voters had “had enough of hearing from experts”, Mr Cameron said: “Would you say that if you were building a bridge or if you were buying a house? I don’t want an expert opinion on the mortgage, on the building survey? Of course not.
“Why would you say it about one of the most important and complex decisions that this country will have to take in our lifetime?”
Mr Johnson and Mr Gove responded to the Prime Minister’s speech by challenging him to a debate, with the Leave campaign claiming he was “too chicken” to face his opponents.
Mr Cameron denied his appearance was organised at short notice in response to worrying poll figures for the Remain side, but Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, said the comments showed the Remain camp was rattled and that Brexit campaigners were on their way to victory.
In a particularly bad-tempered day on the EU referendum campaign trail, there were accusations of racism levelled at the Leave campaign over its claims about EU immigration.
Tim Farron, Liberal Democrat leader, condemned the rhetoric of the Leave side’s leaders as “fantastically dangerous”.
At the weekend, Mr Farage claimed the threat of sex attacks by migrants following incidents in the German city of Cologne at New Year would be “the nuclear bomb” of the EU referendum campaign.
Appearing alongside his predecessors Paddy Ashdown, Sir Menzies Campbell and Nick Clegg, Mr Farron said: “What we are seeing in the referendum and what might be the best card, the most effective card, that Gove, Farage et al are playing is one which is basically dog-whistle racism. It’s not so much a dog whistle more of a fog horn, frankly.
Mr Farron added: “We talk about Farage and about Boris to a certain extent with almost a tut or a chuckle in our voices, these people are fantastically dangerous. They would use that sort of language, that narrative to divide us from one another.”
There was also condemnation of Mr Farage’s comments from the Archbishop of Canterbury, giving evidence to a committee of MPs.
“I think that is an inexcusable pandering to people’s worries and prejudices,” the Most Rev Justin Welby said.
“That is giving legitimisation to racism which I’ve seen in parishes in which I’ve served, and has led to attacks on people in those parishes. We cannot legitimise that.”
Vote Leave said the Prime Minister’s hastily-arranged press conference betrayed “panic” in the Remain camp.
In a joint statement, Mr Gove and Mr Johnson said the public “deserve the chance to hear these issues debated face-to-face between the Prime Minister and a spokesman for Vote Leave so they can judge for themselves which is the safer choice”.
Ukip MP Douglas Carswell accused Remain and Mr Cameron of being in a “blind panic” because the country was “rejecting his campaign of fear”.
“The Prime Minister says we need a proper debate about the facts, but he is too chicken to take on anyone from the Vote Leave campaign head-to-head,” he said.
Earlier in the day, the Leave campaign published a dossier detailing the cases of 50 violent criminals which it said the UK had been unable to deport because of EU free movement rules.