British justice minister Michael Gove accused government colleagues of treating voters like children, saying they were trying to scare them into voting to stay in the EU with “new bogeymen every night”.
Gove, a friend of pro-EU prime minister David Cameron, used a speech to lampoon ‘In’ campaigners, who include top ministers, deepening a rift in the ruling Conservatives before a June 23 referendum on membership of the 28-nation bloc.
He also attacked a report delivered on Monday by chancellor George Osborne, who said an exit from the EU, or Brexit, could cost Britons thousands of pounds a year and sap funding for public services.
With British voters evenly split over whether to stay in the bloc, the campaign to convince the large numbers of undecideds has heated up, pitting Conservative MPs against each other in increasingly personal debates.
“The ‘In’ campaign want us to believe that Britain is beaten and broken... [It] imagines that the people of this country are mere children, capable of being frightened into obedience by conjuring up new bogeymen every night,” Mr Gove told supporters and journalists.
He mocked the remain campaign, led by Mr Cameron, for suggesting fewer foreigners would play in England’s top football league and the City of London financial district would lose influence if Britain left the EU.
Mr Gove said that, instead, Britain would reclaim control over its borders, financial structures and legal systems.
“If we vote to stay, we are not settling for the status quo ... we are voting to be a hostage locked in the boot of a car driven by others to a place and at a pace we have no control over,” he said.
Answering questions at the end of his speech, Mr Gove played down any enmity in the Conservative Party, which is split over Britain’s EU membership.
However, in his most direct attack on the government, he said Mr Osborne’s report was “an official admission from the ‘in’ campaign that if we do vote to stay in the EU then immigration can continue to increase by hundreds of thousands year on year”.
The government, which wants to reduce immigration, says the nation can only control its borders if it co-operates with the EU and has warned refugees may flock to Britain from France if the country left.
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