The battle lines within the Conservative Party have hardened after Boris Johnson accused David Cameron of failing to deliver fundamental change in the UK’s relationship with Europe, which he warned was hurtling towards a “superstate into which we would inevitably be dragged”.
As senior Tory figures traded blows over the EU referendum, a senior opposition politician warned that the campaign has so far been “dominated” by an internal Tory row which is “dangerous for the future of the country”.
You’ve just got an increasingly hysterical battle for the future of the Tory party and they are trying to hijack the future of the country. We cannot let them do that. This has got to be about our future as BritainYvette Cooper
Labour’s former shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the Conservatives were “making this a battle over personalities and over who’s going to be the next leader of the Tory party”.
She also stressed the Labour Party was “strongly supporting” the case for remaining in Europe, but urged leader Jeremy Corbyn to do more pro-EU campaigning stating: “I think it’s really important that he does.”
But the London mayor, in one of his most Eurosceptic interventions yet, put regaining sovereignty at the centre of his argument to leave the EU, claiming the loss of control to Brussels had become “injurious to government in this country”.
He claimed rules from Brussels prevented him banning potentially unsafe lorries from London and could have led to the tunnels for the Crossrail project under the UK capital being expanded to accommodate German trains.
Mr Cameron has said he has secured a commitment to exempt the UK from ever closer union, after the Prime Minister renegotiated Britain’s terms of EU membership ahead of the UK’s In-Out referendum on 23 June.
However, Mr Johnson, who is touted as a potential successor to Mr Cameron, said EU reforms on UK sovereignty are “not achievable” and the government has not delivered “fundamental change”.
He said: “We were told we were going to get wholesale changes.”Mr Johnson added: “Anybody looking at the agreement that we have before us now would be in no doubt that this is not fundamental reform.
“The next item on the agenda is the further evolution of what was a common market into this superstate into which we would inevitably be dragged.”
Mr Johnson, the Tory MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, also said it was a “once in a lifetime opportunity” for the UK to make its own relationships with other nations in the vote.
However, Mr Johnson’s remarks on BBC1’s the Andrew Marr Show, were mocked by Scottish Conservatives leader Ruth Davidson.
She wrote on Twitter: “Is it just me or is Boris floundering here? Not sure the bumble-bluster, kitten smirk, tangent-bombast routine is cutting through.”
In a further sign of deepening Tory divisions, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, who is campaigning to stay in the EU, said “aggression” in politics “doesn’t appeal to women”, as she claimed Iain Duncan Smith’s strident attacks on the In camp will put off women voters.
The Work and Pensions Secretary, a prominent backer of Brexit, accused the government of producing a “dodgy dossier” criticising the alternatives to EU membership.
In another pro-EU intervention, Environment Secretary Liz Truss said her decision to back an In vote was motivated by her family concerns and added that her message to female voters was to consider the kind of future available to Britain.
Ms Truss said: “I would say to female voters – and to everyone – that this is about how bright Britain’s future is.
“I want our children to have more opportunities and a better life than our generation. That is what I am thinking about.”
Conservatives grassroots activists are also split over the issue of Europe, a survey of local party chairmen has found.
The poll of Conservative local associations with sitting Tory MPs found almost half said they were dissatisfied with the deal David Cameron secured in Brussels and more than 40 per cent said they would vote for a Brexit.
Of the 128 local chairmen and chairwomen who responded to the survey, 54 said they would vote Out and 31 backed an In vote.
Some 43 said they had yet to make up their minds when contacted by BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend.
Meanwhile, Mr Johnson said that British withdrawal from the EU would be like escaping from jail, as he said a business leader who was suspended over his support for Brexit paid a “heavy price”.
Downing Street has insisted it did not put pressure on the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) to suspend its leader over comments suggesting the country could have a “brighter” future outside the EU.
Number 10 said it was “surprised” by the views expressed by John Longworth, the BCC’s director general and acknowledged that it “regularly” speaks to business organisations.
But a spokesman stressed that “no pressure” was put on the BCC to suspend Mr Longworth.
Mr Johnson claimed the business leader had been crushed by the agents of Project Fear – the label used by Brexit campaigners to criticise the tactics used by Mr Cameron and his allies backing an In vote. He said: “This is like the jailer has accidentally left the door of the jail open and people can see the sunlit land beyond.”
Labour MP and former cabinet minister Ms Cooper said Mr Johnson and Mr Cameron were now locked in a “battle between old Etonians about their political parties”.
Speaking on a television news channel, Ms Cooper, said: “You’ve just got an increasingly hysterical battle for the future of the Tory party and they are trying to hijack the future of the country. 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 about their political parties.”
But in a sign of growing concerns among senior Labour figures about party leader Jeremy Corbyn challenging Tory Eurosecptics, former party leadership contender Liz Kendall warned there were “some on the left of the party who may be prevaricating” about Britain’s EU membership.
Ms Kendall said: “Actually it’s about jobs, growth and the politics of solidarity and we have to make that case.”