Advocates of a British exit from the European Union have ramped up their attacks on Conservative Party leader David Cameron with some threatening to topple him no matter the outcome of the referendum next month.
Andrew Bridgen, a lawmaker in Cameron’s party, told the BBC on Sunday that more than fifty of his colleagues are ready to move against the prime minister because he is at “odds with half of our parliamentary party and probably 70 percent of our members and activist base.”
Nadine Dorries, another Euroskeptic parliamentarian, said Cameron — who favors continued EU membership — needs to win the referendum by at least 60 percent or he will be “toast within days.”
The Sunday Times quoted another lawmaker, who had apparently come unhinged, saying, “I don’t want to stab the prime minister in the back. I want to stab him in the front so I can see the expression on his face. You’d have to twist the knife, though, because we want it back for [George] Osborne,” Cameron’s deputy and possible successor.
Michael Gove, the justice secretary, and Boris Johnson, the former mayor of London, have also taken direct aim at Cameron in recent days, accusing him of eroding the “public trust” by promising to lower migration to Britain at the last election and failing to deliver.
Shoot the messenger
Priti Patel, the employment minister, suggested in another interview that Cameron and Osborne are “too rich” and led lives that were “insulated” from the pressures immigration puts on low-income Britons.
Which seems an odd accusation to make at the same time as the leave campaign is arguing that one or two years of recession are a prize worth paying for leaving the EU.
The Treasury estimates that an exit could depress growth by 3.6 percent or more in the short term.
An Ipsos Mori survey of more than 600 economists found that 88 percent believe leaving the EU and its single market would damage Britain’s growth prospects over the next five years.
The Bank of England, the International Monetary Fund, British employers’ organizations and trade unions have all voiced similar concerns.
To which prominent leavers have responded by shooting the messenger. As they see it, the institutions that caution against exit are all in cahoots with the monster in Brussels. Everyone who proposes to stay in the EU is therefore suspect, including their own leader.
The Financial Times‘ Sebastian Payne argues against reading too much into the words of a few disgruntled lawmakers.
One, who is campaigning for Britain to stay in the European Union, told him, “It is the same group of forty who claim they speak for the party. They do not.”
Cameron may be at odds with the activist base — which tends to lose its sense of proportion when it comes to the EU — but he’s certainly not out of touch with Conservative Party voters. That much should be obvious after winning two elections in a row.
Leader who are totally in sync with his most ardent supporters, by contrast, usually aren’t very electable. Ask Labour.
Some of the more senior voices on the leave side recognize as much.
Liam Fox and Iain Duncan Smith, both former cabinet ministers, played down the prospect of a coup this weekend.
Speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr, Fox implored fellow Euroskeptics not to turn the referendum into an internal party debate.