Boris Johnson has launched a fresh assault on David Cameron’s decision to spend more than £9m on a pro-EU leaflet sent to every UK household, saying the document was “not sufficiently absorbent for the purposes” to which one critic wished to put it.
The mayor of London, who is backing the leave campaign, said “Bremain” supporters were “shamefully spending £9.3m of taxpayers’ money on a leaflet trying to scare everybody into remaining in the EU”.
Speaking in Newcastle on Saturday during his “Brexit blitz” tour of the north, Johnson criticised the 14-page booklet in a broad-ranging speech that attacked Cameron, the remain camp and Brussels.
The prime minister has described the leaflet as money well spent, and “necessary and right”. Johnson said: “In the scare tactics of Project Fear they are woefully underestimating this country and its people.”
Many in the remain campaign were the same people who claimed Britain had no choice but to join the euro when the single currency was introduced, he said, and that it would mean economic disaster if we failed to do so. “How ludicrous they look now . Why on earth should we listen to them today?” he asked.
He said that although Londoners shouted him in the street, sometimes calling him a “Tory tosser”, his reply was say: “They know who I am, they know what I do. Who knows what’s going on in Brussels?”
Johnson described the EU as “borderline corrupt” and “anti-democratic” and that the real risk to Britain was remaining in the bloc, not leaving.
The start of his speech was interrupted by hecklers shouting “no Tories in Newcastle” and several people were escorted out.
Johnson has also criticised Barack Obama for intervening in the Brexit debate. The US president is expected to back the remain campaign during a visit to the UK next week. “I think that President Obama has got a perfect right to make any intervention that he wants,” he told the BBC.
“I just find it absolutely bizarre that we are being lectured by the Americans about giving up our sovereignty and giving up control when the Americans won’t even sign up to the international convention on the law of the seas, let alone the international criminal court.”
“We’d be plunged into a Conservative leadership crisis which is never a very edifying sight,” he said.In a further blow to Cameron, the former chancellor Kenneth Clarke said the prime minister “wouldn’t last 30 seconds if he lost the referendum”.
The pro-European Tory veteran told the BBC it would be farcical for Cameron to stay on as prime minister if voters backed Brexit.
Cameron told MPs earlier this week that he would remain in office to negotiate Britain’s exit in the event of a vote to leave the EU.
Johnson, who is a potential Tory leader, said on Saturday that “obviously David Cameron should remain in place”. Asked if he would be prime minister on 24 June, he said: “I certainly won’t.”