The head of one of Britain’s leading business groups resigned last night, accusing Prime Minister David Cameron of peddling “highly irresponsible” scare stories to stop British voters choosing to leave the European Union (EU).
John Longworth quit as director of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) after he was suspended for supporting Brexit.
Supporters claim the Prime Minister’s office “bullied” the BCC into suspending him, although Downing Street denies this.
However, Mr Longworth has now quit the group, saying he wants to be free to campaign for Britain to leave the EU.
He accused David Cameron of trying to “scare” voters into staying in the EU.
“It is highly irresponsible of the government of the country to be peddling hyperbole,” he told The Telegraph. “It is alright for the campaign groups to do it because they are promoting a particular position, but the government has to be responsible.
“And the fact of the matter is that there is a chance that the country will vote to leave.
“If the government keeps peddling the line that it will be a disaster if we leave, which it actually won’t be, they are going to put the country in a position where it will be damaged if we do.”
He even said that stock markets and currency markets would react badly to Britain leaving the EU specifically because of constant warnings of disaster coming from the government.
“It may work that by scaring people that we don’t leave and they will succeed. But if we do leave, that will be very irresponsible of the government.”
He called on the government to be neutral in the referendum, and refused to comment on suggestions he had been pushed out of his job by Downing Street.
“I am forgoing my source of earning a living by resigning and volunteering to participate in this debate because I believe so passionately that it is important that I do this.
“The liberation that leaving the EU will give us will reap huge rewards if the government pursues the right policies. We are going to continue to face regulations that will make UK business uncompetitive in the EU, if we stay.”
Yesterday, London Mayor Boris Johnson said that Mr Longworth had become a victim of “Project Fear”.
“It is absolutely scandalous that John Longworth has been forced to step aside,” he told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show.
“This is a man who reached the conclusion – after long reflection and a lifetime’s experience of business – that it would be better to vote Leave.
“His verdict reflects the reality – that the EU has changed out of all recognition from the Common Market that this country joined.”
Former Defence Secretary Liam Fox also came out in support of Mr Longworth, threatening to raise his treatment in Parliament.
“There needs to be quick clarification about all this from the government, if they were involved [in Mr Longworth’s suspension] in any way.”
“I want to know if any part of government, not just number 10, was involved in putting pressure on the BCC to drop John Longworth, because I think that is inappropriate and if we don’t get a good enough explanation we’ll have to get a better one on the floor of the House of Commons,” he added.
UKIP leader Nigel Farage tweeted:
I've met John Longworth who is a thoroughly decent man. He has been treated appallingly for supporting #Brexit.
— Nigel Farage (@Nigel_Farage) March 7, 2016