EU referendum: John Major launches remarkable attack on Boris Johnson for 'misleading' voters

Former PM says of Brexit figureheads: 'The NHS is about as safe with them as a pet hamster would be with a hungry python'

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Sir John Major has launched a scathing attack on Boris Johnson and Michael Gove accusing them of running a “squalid” and “depressing” campaign that was intent on “misleading” the British people.

In a remarkable interview, Sir John rubbished leave campaign claims that pulling out of the EU would allow Britain to spend more money on the NHS pointing out the Mr Gove and Mr Johnson had both advocating charging for services in the past.

"Michael Gove wanted to privatise it, Boris wanted to charge people for using it and Iain Duncan Smith wanted a social insurance system," he said.

"The NHS is about as safe with them as a pet hamster would be with a hungry python."

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He also ridiculed Vote Leave’s claim that Turkey could join the EU as an “utterly false suggestion” and accused those behind it of “misleading people to an extraordinary extent”.

Boris Johnson as one of the leaders of the campaign "has the power to stop it", he added. 

“On the economy and what would happen if we actually left, the Leave campaign have said absolutely nothing to the British people and what they have said about leaving is fundamentally dishonest and it's dishonest about the cost of Europe," Sir John told the Marr show.

"And on the subject that they have veered towards, having lost the economic argument, of immigration, I think their campaign is verging on the squalid."

He added: "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."

Describing Mr Johnson as a “engaging court jester” Mr Major suggested his true motivation was largely driven by personal ambition – but warned him that he “will not have the loyalty of the party he divided” if he becomes the next leader of the Tory Party.

Mr Johnson dismissed the criticisms, insisting it was "not true"  the Leave's claims about Britain sending £350 million a week to Brussels was "fictitious" or the campaign was "squalid".

Asked if he believed the attacks against him were part of a plot to "take him out", Mr Johnson said: "Whether it is or not, I'm rather with John McDonnell this morning who says that there is too much of this blue on blue action and what he wants to hear is the arguments and that's where I am."

He also said it was absolute nonsense he was backing Brexit out of personal leadership ambitions.

"Obviously there is going to be a temptation by one side or the other to try to turn it into a personality-driven conversation. My view about the EU has changed but that is because the EU has changed out of all recognition."

The Tory former leadership contender David Davis said the attack was a "very bad idea". He told BBC One's Sunday Politics: "I guess he was trying to reduce the credibility of the Leave campaign's claims."

"It was a pretty harsh attack and I don't think very wise. One of the problems, both sides of this campaign has been they have been too personalised. I don't think it gains anything."

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