Boris Johnson slams 'crushing' of Brexit supporter
The battle for Britain to leave or remain within the European Union stepped up a gear on Sunday as London mayor Boris Johnson accused the establishment of "crushing" a business leader for publicly supporting a Brexit.
Johnson, the leading advocate of the campaign for Britain to leave the EU in a June referendum, said it was "absolutely scandalous" that John Longworth had been suspended as head of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC).
"It cannot be right that when someone has the guts to dissent from the establishment line, he or she is immediately crushed by the agents of Project Fear," Johnson said in a statement.
Eurosceptics have dubbed the campaign to stay in the EU "Project Fear" because of its focus on the security and economic risks of ending Britain's 43-year-old membership of the European bloc.
Prime Minister David Cameron's office was forced to deny that it had leaned on the BCC to suspend Longworth, after he challenged the organisation's official neutrality by on Thursday declaring his personal support for a Brexit.
"We are clear no pressure was put on the BCC to suspend him," a Downing Street spokesman said.
But former Conservative defence minister Liam Fox, another Brexit supporter, told the Sunday Times newspaper: "Project Fear is turning into Project Intimidation.
"Threats and bullying to do not reflect well on those who promote them and are likely to infuriate the British people."
Cameron and Johnson are both members of the Conservative party but they have long been rivals, and the campaign for the June 23 referendum has pitted them head to head.
The prime minister has accused Johnson of being motivated by a desire to one day replace him in Downing Street, but the mayor dismissed this on Sunday as "cobblers".
"To the best of my knowledge there is not a single EU leader in the last 20 years who has had to step down as a result of a referendum, whether on Europe or not," Johnson said in a BBC interview.
He said the referendum was "a golden opportunity to shrug off a regulatory, legislative burden that is profoundly undemocratic".
He added: "This is like the jailer has accidentally left the door of the jail open and people can see the sunlit land beyond, and everybody is suddenly wrangling about the terrors of the world outside.
"Actually it would be wonderful."
© 2016 AFP