Conservative party infighting over the EU referendum has reached a new crazy level. Boris Johnson and David Cameron have both turned to scaremongering tactics to make their competing cases, leaving the whole campaign shrouded in negativity and confusion. As the days pass, it seems both Remain and Leave camps could benefit from just ignoring each other altogether.
Boris courts controversy
The Prime Minister and his allies have embarrassed themselves and the Remain campaign on numerous occasions. But the Leave camp has so far been dominated by a large dose of bumbling theatrics from former Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. And it is he who has hit the headlines in recent days for his controversial comments.
On 15 May, Johnson spoke about historic attempts to unify Europe, saying:
Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this out, and it ends tragically. The EU is an attempt to do this by different methods.
But the outspoken former mayor seems untouchable within the Conservative party. In spite of previous comments perceived to be racist, and the fact that another former mayor was recently suspended from the Labour party for mentioning Hitler, Johnson has yet again emerged intact.
European officials weren’t amused, though. European Council President Donald Tusk said:
When I hear the EU being compared to the plans and projects of Adolf Hitler I cannot remain silent… Boris Johnson crossed the boundaries of a rational discourse, demonstrating political amnesia.
Boris Johnson’s comments, he suggested, welcomed:
the return to national egoisms, and in consequence, the triumph of anti-democratic tendencies, which can lead to history repeating itself.
Is Boris going bananas?
Perhaps to distract attention away from his Hitler comments, Johnson also spoke about the EU’s regulations on bananas, saying:
It is absurd that we are told you cannot sell bananas of bunches of more than two or three bananas.
The only problem was that this wasn’t quite true, causing the former mayor to be mocked on Twitter:
So Johnson has lied and fearmongered in the interests of Brexit. But he has also shown hypocrisy, considering that he appeared to be much more critical of the prospect back in February 2016, saying:
leaving would cause at least some business uncertainty, while embroiling the Government for several years in a fiddly process of negotiating new arrangements, so diverting energy from the real problems of this country – low skills, low social mobility, low investment etc – that have nothing to do with Europe.
So why is Johnson slipping up so much? Is he just not up to the task of leading the Brexit campaign with “persuasive, disciplined and forensic force”, as Steve Richards argues at the International Business Times? Is he just too inexperienced?
Either way, he may now have shot himself in the foot if he aspires to lead the Conservative party in the future. According to former Deputy Prime Minister and Remain campaigner Lord Heseltine, Johnson is:
behaving now irresponsibly, recklessly and I fear that his judgement is going.
Heseltine also insisted that he’d be “very surprised” if Johnson became prime minister in the future after the “preposterous” and “obscene” comments he has made so far during the EU referendum campaign.
The Tory Remain camp is little better
The Conservative government has previously been slammed for spending £9m of taxpayer money on a pro-Remain leaflet. But that apparently wasn’t enough. The Prime Minister has now won the award for the most hysterical comment by asking on 17 May:
who would be happy if we left? Putin would be happy. I suspect al-Baghdadi would be happy.
Referring here to the leader of Daesh (Isis/Isil), he was essentially saying Brexiters were playing into the hands of Wahhabi terrorists – which is not too different from Boris Johnson suggesting Remain campaigners are supporting a Naziesque institution.
Cameron’s Remain allies in the Conservative party have also joined in the fearmongering, though not quite to the extent of their colleagues. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, for example, have claimed Brexit would damage the future of both the NHS and British children. This in spite of the way they themselves have put the future of the British health and education systems at risk.
An alternative to ‘Project Fear’
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, who is a Remain campaigner, has criticised the way Tory negativity has so far dominated the EU referendum. Speaking to union leaders at the Trades Union Council on 17 May, he said:
the debate has degenerated into the worst form of negativity and brought out the worst in Westminster politics.
It was essential, he argued, that the Labour party rescue the debate from:
Project Fear coming from all sides of the Tory party.
Instead, he insisted that a positive case for staying in the EU was needed. Saying the institution had taken steps to protect workers’ rights, tackle tax avoidance, deal with climate change, and support British industries, he stressed:
This is a vision of Europe based upon hope and solidarity.
Whether we agree with McDonnell’s comments or not, we would definitely be well advised to take any further contributions from both Boris Johnson and David Cameron on the EU debate with a pinch of salt.
– See previous Canary articles on the EU referendum.
– Research views for and against Brexit.
– Read about Diem25, which is trying to bring about real democratic change within the EU.
– Full Fact is fact-checking the EU referendum here.
– See this interesting debate on the EU referendum at the New Internationalist.
Featured image via Wikimedia Commons (left and right).