EU referendum: Tory in-fighting increases after Iain Duncan Smith says Remain campaign 'bullying' voters

Mr Duncan Smith attacked the 'desperate and unsubstantiated claims' of the Remain campaign

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The Tory civil war over Europe has intensified as ministers rounded on Iain Duncan Smith over a series of provocative attacks on the Government.

The Work and Pensions Secretary has sparked fury in Downing Street after launching a sustained media assault on the Prime Minister’s campaign to keep Britain in the EU – including allegations the Government produced a “dodgy dossier” about the UK’s future in the event of a Brexit.

In an interview with The Independent on Sunday, the Education Secretary Nicky Morgan singled out Mr Duncan Smith for criticism over the remark, warning that women voters will swing behind EU membership as long as such attacks continue. She said she had been approached by constituents saying: “What kind of language is that?”

Another minister, who did not wish to be named, slammed Mr Duncan Smith for using language “resonant of the Iraq war” to attack the Government. The minister warned that the referendum must not be allowed to “dominate everything else”.

The warning came amid claims that backbench Eurosceptics furious with David Cameron over his handling of the referendum campaign are refusing to back ministers on key government business. 

George Osborne has been forced to drop plans for a tax raid on wealthy savers – by introducing a flat rate of pension tax relief – after an outcry from Tory MPs. The Government is also facing a major rebellion this week over plans to relax Sunday trading laws. 

About half of Tory MPs – including London Mayor Boris Johnson – are supporting a British exit (Getty)

It is the latest sign that the EU referendum has led to a major breakdown in party discipline. Ministers have already been forced to kick the controversial obesity strategy into the long grass, alongside other fractious issues including a proposed British bill of rights, the renewal of Trident and Heathrow’s expansion. The entire Queen’s Speech – setting out the Government’s programme – could also be delayed until after the 23 June poll.

While the Government’s official position is for Britain to remain a member of the EU, ministers have been given the freedom to campaign to leave. About half of the Conservative Party’s MPs – including London Mayor Boris Johnson and five cabinet ministers – are supporting a British exit.

Mr Duncan Smith has been the most outspoken cabinet critic of the Government’s position, attacking the “desperate and unsubstantiated claims” of the Remain campaign which he claimed would “damage the very integrity of those who make them in the eyes of the public”. He has accused the Government of launching “Project Fear” to scare people into voting to remain. Mr Duncan Smith has also warned that a vote to remain would increase the likelihood of a Paris-style attack in the UK. 

Speaking to The IoS, Ms Morgan said such attacks would backfire. She said: “I had a conversation with some businesswomen in my constituency. They said, that bloke who talks about the dodgy dossier – Iain Duncan Smith – they said what kind of language is that? That’s not going to tell us anything about the debate.

“Aggression always appeals to a certain type of person in politics, but my experience is it doesn’t appeal to women. I think, actually, saying these phrases like ‘dodgy dossiers’ and asking about ‘project fear’ completely misses the point.”

She also dismissed the impact Boris Johnson would have on the referendum. Ms Morgan said: “I can tell you nobody in Loughborough has talked to me about Boris Johnson’s position.”

A government source told The IoS: “If you are talking about ‘project fear’, you’ve got IDS talking about Paris-style attacks. He’s not being straight with the public about how the UK outside Europe works.”

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has criticised Mr Duncan-Smith for his outburst (Getty)

A senior source in the Remain campaign added: “We are making serious points, but they just scream ‘project fear’. Rather than presenting themselves as victims, they need to answer tough questions, because this decision will have an impact on people’s lives. The more they say ‘project fear’, the clearer it is they don’t have an answer.”

One minister, speaking anonymously, said: “Remember what we said at the start – that we would treat each other with respect and we would treat the people with respect. There’s no need to start whingeing about the Government’s position or to use language that’s resonant of the Iraq war. You may disagree with the conclusion but that doesn’t mean you should suggest people are dishonest. 

“We must not let the debate dominate everything else. The whole point about the referendum was to open this out widely and not focus on ourselves. There are a number of individuals who don’t like the Prime Minister for whatever reason and are using it as a revenge match. Colleagues will remember this and won’t forgive them if they use it as a personal vendetta.”

It was announced on 5 March that the John Longworth, the director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has been temporarily suspended over his comment last week that Britain’s long-term prospects could be “brighter” outside the EU. The BCC has said it will not campaign for either side as its membership is split on the issue.