The anti-immigration tactics being used by the Leave campaign in the EU referendum amount to a “divide and rule trick”, Yanis Varoufakis has said.
The former Greek finance minister – who faced down EU institutions in his previous job negotiating with the Troika – said the British establishment was trying to use fear of immigrants to distract from the effects of austerity.
“Lest we forget: turning the native poor against migrant labour is a variant of the old divide and rule trick that the British establishment honed ages ago to dominate the empire,” he said.
“Today the establishment uses the same trick to dominate the domestic natives to hide austerity’s effects and to defect anger towards the ‘other’ – the migrant, the foreigner.”
The warning comes as the Leave campaign ramps up its anti-immigration rhetoric in a bid to deliver victory in next month's referendum.
Boris Johnson this week said the only way migration could be reduced was by leaving the EU, branding his own party's policy on the issue at the last election 'cynical'.
Organisers of the Leave campaign have previously been reticent to focus on immigration because they fear focusing on the issue could alienate the swing voters needed to win.
With phone polls showing the Remain campaign with a significant lead, however, a change of course has been noticable in recent days.
Mr Varoufakis made his comments at the UK launch of his new project calling for more democracy in the EU, DiEM25 (Democracy in Europe Movement 2025).
He explained that though he had himself come to blows with the EU institutions in his previous job, he supported Britain remaining a member of the EU because he feared what its disintegration would herald.
“Will the European Union’s disintegration cause progressive democrats to rise across Europe?” he asked rhetorically.
“To empower their parliaments, to usher in the forces of light and hope, and to usher in the harmonious cooperation between Europeans? Not likely.”
Mr Varoufakis also lamented the state of the current EU referendum debate, warning that as an economist he believed “the statistics on both sides are not worth the paper they’re written on”.
Last September the former Syriza MP warned that in turn, austerity itself was cover for class war against the poorest in society.
Mr Varoufakis, a former professor of economics, came to prominence during the Greek sovereign debt crisis when he led Greece’s negotiating team seeking a resolution with its international creditors.
On Saturday he described this episode, with resulted in almost no concessions to Greece, as a “complete failure” on his part.
The EU in-out referendum will take place on 23 June.
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