The Conservative truce over the European Union referendum on Monday collapsed as the Prime Minister attacked Boris Johnson and Cabinet ministers openly criticised one another.
In a sign of the deepening divisions over the in-out referendum, David Cameron used a Commons appearance to openly condemn Mr Johnson, who on Sunday announced that he would campaign to take Britain of the EU.
He also described as “for the birds” an apparent suggestion by Mr Johnson that Britain could vote to leave the EU before negotiating a better settlement with Brussels.
The Prime Minister is said to be “livid” with Mr Johnson, who on Monday indicated that Mr Cameron and his allies are “wildly exaggerating” when they claim that a “Brexit” would be a “leap in the dark”.
Referring to his own commitment to step down before the next election, Mr Cameron said: “I am not standing for re-election, I have no other agenda than what is best for our country.”
The open dispute between the two senior Tories appears to undermine an appeal made by the Prime Minister on Saturday when he asked his ministers to ensure that the EU debate was “orderly, well-mannered debate”.
Today, in his Daily Telegraph column, Lord Hague, the former foreign secretary, warns that the Conservatives could lose the next general election if the referendum battle becomes a bitter war between opposing tory factions.
Mr Cameron suggested that Mr Johnson made his decision simply in order to further his own ambition to become prime minister.
Mr Cameron on Monday answered questions in the Commons for three hours as he set out his case for remaining in the EU.
However, he then found himself in the unprecedented position of having his remarks immediately rebutted by a member of his own Cabinet.
Priti Patel, a leading figure in the Vote Leave campaign, said: “The Prime Minister has tried hard but the EU refused to give the British people what they want.”
The infighting in the Conservative Party came as:
Downing Street was today expected to unveil a pro-EU letter signed by scores of FTSE 100 businesses – far fewer than it initially hoped would back its campaign.
The value of the pound plunged to a near seven-year low against the dollar after Mr Johnson backing a “Brexit”.
The Government faced accusations of “scaremongering” after releasing a report warning that quitting the EU would make Britain more vulnerable to terrorist attacks, drive up mobile phone bills and put at risk billions of pounds of trade deals
Thousands of migrants were left stranded in Greece Monday after Macedonia abruptly closed it border to Afghans, creating a fresh bottleneck as European countries scramble to respond to the continent’s worst refugee crisis since World War II.
Speaking in the Commons on Monday, Mr Cameron repeatedly rebuked Mr Johnson, the Mayor of London.
He initially focused his attack on an apparent suggestion from Mr Johnson that a “Brexit” could lead to a second referendum which Britain could use to negotiate a better settlement from Brussels.
Mr Cameron said: “I won’t dwell on the irony that some people who want to vote to leave apparently want to use a leave vote to remain. Such an approach also ignores more profound points about democracy, diplomacy and legality.”
However, sources close to Mr Johnson said that he accepts that “out means out” and is only suggesting that a UK outside the EU could negotiate a deal with Brussels based on trade.
Mr Cameron also appeared to be directing comments to Mr Johnson when he said: “This cannot be described as anything other than risk uncertainty and a leap in the dark that could hurt working people in our country for years to come, and this is not some theoretical question – this is a real decision about people’s lives.”
A source close to Mr Johnson said: “C’est la vie. He’s not remotely angry. But he thinks it’s important we concentrate on providing the arguments to voter. Nobody wins by getting personal on this stuff.”
Writing in this newspaper, Lord Hague issued a stark warning to his colleagues about letting the issue divide the party.
He writes: “So, just at the point when Conservatives are most divided they also have their greatest responsibility in decades: if they fail to win the next general election the national consequences would be grave indeed.”
At a meeting of the 1922 Committee of MPs following Mr Cameron’s Commons appearance, Steve Baker, one of the Tory MPs backing Vote Leave, urged the Prime Minister to “be nice to Boris”.
Mr Cameron also used that meeting to clarify remarks he made early this month when he urged MPs to ignore the eurosceptic views among their constituency associations.
According to an MP present at the meeting, Mr Cameron said: “I was attempting to say was ‘make your case and your associations will respect you, even if the might disagree’.”
Meanwhile, sources close to Mr Johnson said that he will refuse to lead the Vote Leave campaign despite eurosceptics saying it would boost their campaign.
Senior MPs also yesterday said that Mr Johnson’s decision to join the “Brexit” campaign had “torpedoed any chance of a coronation” for George Osborne, the Chancellor, after Mr Cameron stands down.