EU referendum debate gets personal as Remain camp attacks Boris Johnson

'Boris is the life and soul of the party but you wouldn’t want him to drive you home at the end of the evening'

Boris Johnson came under personal fire from the Remain camp during the debate
Boris Johnson came under personal fire from the Remain camp during the debate

What did we learn from that debate? Not a lot. But there was something of a shift in gear from the Remain side. Amber Rudd, the Government’s representative, appeared determined all night to focus on Boris Johnson and his prospects of becoming Prime Minister, ending with the jibe: “He’s the life and soul of the party but he’s not the man you want driving you home at the end of the evening.”

Mr Johnson’s supporters will probably take it as a sign that Downing Street are rattled, and it could be argued that making the campaign about Boris, who despite his detractors remains one of the country’s most recognisable and liked politicians, is a risky approach.

What’s clear, is that the Tories have rarely looked so divided, and while Labour might want to shift the debate from personalities to policies, it could be the ‘Blue on Blue action’ that dominates headlines right up until referendum day.

Ms Rudd accused Mr Johnson and the Vote Leave camp of making up statistics such as the £350m claim - a figure disputed by some experts who say it is closer to £150m - which is on the side of the campaign’s battle bus.

She said: “That bus is pure fantasy.

“We're going to repaint that bus with a leprechaun on one end a big rainbow and pot of gold at the other.”

Both Ms Rudd and Labour’s shadow business secretary Angela Eagle accused Mr Johnson of only being on the Leave campaign to further his ambition to replace David Cameron.

Ms Eagle said “the only job Boris is interested in is David Cameron’s”.

(L-R) Nicola Sturgeon, Angela Eagle, Amber Rudd, Julie Etchingham, Andrea Leadsom, Gisela Stuart and Boris Johnson did battle in the ITV Referendum Debate

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon criticised Mr Johnson’s claim the UK could better spend the money it sends to Brussels on alleviating the problems within the NHS.

She said: "It’s a bit rich to hear the man who once said people should be charged for using the NHS saying he is now the defender of it.

"I am staggered that Boris Johnson is now standing here still defending this £350m a week figure. It’s a scandal that is still emblazoned across the campaign bus because it is an absolute whopper.

"The statistics authority says so, the House of Commons select committee says so, everybody knows so.

“The contribution each of us makes to the EU every day is less than a pound, but what do we get for that money? We get freedom of travel, we get a single market of 500m people, the chance to cooperate to keep us safer. These are the gains of being in the EU”.

But Brexiters hit back at the comments by the trio saying they were getting too “personal” in a bid to discredit Mr Johnson.

Former Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, told Politics Home the Remain camp were using “scare stories”.

He added: “Then they laced that permanently with abuse. Personal abuse, mostly aimed at Boris, sometimes at the others, but mostly at Boris. Scripted, you could see their heads dip to read the scripted lines, and I thought that contrasted starkly with the team that I’m proud of, the Vote Leave team.

Meanwhile employment minister Priti Patel told The Telegraph: “I thought it was totally unnecessary, absolutely unnecessary.

"I have the view that when you resort to personal insults you have lost the argument”.

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