The man who served as Margaret Thatcher’s Defence Secretary during the Falklands War has quit the Conservative Party over Prime Minister David Cameron’s “tirade of fear” in the European Union (EU) referendum debate.
Sir John Nott, who was Secretary of State for Defence from 1981 to 1983, said that Mr Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne had “poisoned the debate” with “frenetic” warning about potential catastrophe if Britain votes to quit the EU.
He also said that claims of impending doom in the event of Brexit were “complete nonsense”, adding that he will now not renew his membership of the Conservative Party until there is a “change of leadership”.
The Telegraph reports that Sir John also accused Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne of “alienating Conservatives” during the campaign, and in a rebuke to the Prime Minister he said that those who want to leave the EU are “not little Englanders or quitters”.
“I was shocked when Cameron and, in particular Osborne, launched into to this fairly frenetic campaign in favour of the EU,” Sir John said.
“I thought that when he called the referendum, probably we were going to have a sensible, if not an intellectual, debate about the pros and cons of the EU.
“And I do believe that if they had set off to set out what they saw of the advantages and the disadvantages on the other side, and it had been a balanced debate, then they would quite easily have come out with a Remain conclusion.”
Instead, however: “They launched very early into this attack, this description of all the horrors that would happen if we exit. I just listed to this and thought, ‘this is complete nonsense’.”
Sir John also expressed his anger at George Osborne’s prediction that Brexit would leave British families £4,300 a year worse off.
“I thought to myself, ‘is this a joke? Is the Chancellor really suggesting that anyone can predict what the world will be like in 2030? How is this possible?”
He also hit out at the Prime Minister for telling his MPs to ignore what their local party associations might say at the start of the campaign.
“When I joined the Conservative Party it had 2.5 million members. It’s now got 140,000,” Sir John said.
“The Conservative Party – I’m talking about the party – is in dire straits. If the Prime Minister wants to [tell] his backbenchers to ignore the advice of their associations, then these are the people who put Cameron there. I find it obnoxious.”
Sir John’s intervention comes as one of Britain’s most successful industrialists, and Cameron donor, said Britain had “very little to fear” from Brexit.
JCB boss Lord Bamford said that while he voted to stay in the Common Market in 1975, he did not want political union.
“I did not expect us to hand over sovereignty to the EU. I certainly did not expect unaccountable leaders in Brussels to govern over us.”