Saturday 17 March 2018

George Osborne accuses Leave campaign of peddling conspiracy theories

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne (centre) is joined by former adversaries Ed Balls (right) and Sir Vince Cable, in the Ryanair hangar at Stansted Airport
Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne (centre) is joined by former adversaries Ed Balls (right) and Sir Vince Cable, in the Ryanair hangar at Stansted Airport

Andrew Woodcock in London

British Chancellor George Osborne has accused the Leave camp in the EU referendum campaign of indulging in conspiracy theories, as he insisted that there was an "overwhelming consensus" among economists and world leaders that Brexit would be bad for the UK.

Mr Osborne was speaking alongside Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary, who warned that withdrawal from the EU would force up the price of flights and holidays and put his company's latest £1bn (€1.25bn) investment in the UK at risk.

But Vote Leave campaigners dismissed Mr Osborne's comments as "lurid scare stories", which would not be seen as credible by voters.

Meanwhile, more than 300 business leaders signed a letter urging Britain to vote to leave the EU and warning that the UK's competitiveness is being undermined by its membership.

The pro-Brexit Boris Johnson hit the road again in his battlebus, visiting Alfreton in Derbyshire amid controversy over his comparison between the EU and the dreams of pan-European government pursued by both Napoleon and Hitler.

Second World War veteran and former chief of the defence staff Lord Bramall dismissed the comparison as "absurd", while Labour's former cabinet minister Ed Balls said the comments were "ill-judged and irresponsible".

But Mr Johnson brushed off the criticism, insisting that the EU was "fundamentally anti-democratic" and was "operating by stealth and taking away the powers and prerogatives of the people of this country".

He was defended by Ukip MEP Gerard Batten, who said the European Economic Community established in 1957 was "very similar" to a proposal drawn up by officials in Hitler's Germany.

Mr Osborne said Treasury analysis showed that if the UK was forced to rely on World Trade Organisation rules following Brexit, it could expect to lose trade worth £200bn a year and overseas investment worth £200bn within 15 years.

"Credible" observers ranging from the Bank of England and the International Monetary Fund to the OECD and US president Barack Obama had judged that "Britain will be poorer and British people will be poorer" if the UK votes to leave the EU, claimed the Chancellor.

But he said the Leave camp treated the warnings as "a massive conspiracy", implying that a series of international organisations and world leaders were part of "some global stitch-up to give misinformation to the British people".

"The next thing we know, the Leave camp will be accusing us of faking the moon landings, kidnapping Shergar and covering up the existence of the Loch Ness monster," said Mr Osborne.

He added: "The response to the sober economic warnings from around the world by those who want to leave the EU has not been credible or serious."

Irish Independent

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