London Mayor says business leader suspended for supporting Brexit was crushed by the agents of Project Fear. Boris Johnson attacked David Cameron’s agents of fear last night for crushing a senior business leader who called for Britain to leave the European Union.
The Major of London expressed his horror over the suspension of John Longworth, the highly respected leader of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), for backing Brexit. Downing Street was accused of “bullying” the BCC into temporarily removing Mr Longworth from his post.
Number 10 sources denied that they had “forced” the body to suspend Mr Longworth or put “pressure” on board members to take action.
However, the sources could not say that no conversations had taken place between Downing Street officials and the business organisation before Mr Longworth was suspended.
Mr Longworth announced his “personal” support for the campaign to leave the EU on Thursday, criticising the Prime Minister’s renegotiation of the terms of Britain’s membership.
But a day later he was suspended for breaching the BCC’s commitment to staying neutral in the debate, after an emergency meeting of the BCC’s board of directors. The row now centres on what happened between Mr Longworth’s speech and his suspension.
One friend of Mr Longworth claimed last night that Number 10 had “bullied” BCC board members into suspending their director-general. “John said Downing Street were putting pressure on the BCC board,” the friend said.
Mr Cameron has ordered his staff to throw all their resources – and the full weight of the Government – into the effort to keep Britain inside the EU.
Out campaigners claim that Number 10 is putting pressure on business leaders and others to support continuing EU membership and has mounted a “scaremongering” operation – nicknamed “Project Fear” – to convince the public to stay in Europe.
Mr Longworth, who has been in his post since 2011, was not available for comment last night.
However, Mr Johnson, the leading figure in the Out campaign, expressed his dismay at the reports that Mr Longworth had been forced out. “It is absolutely scandalous that John Longworth has been forced to step aside,” Mr Johnson said.
In a thinly veiled attack on Downing Street, he said it was wrong for a dissenting voice to have been “crushed by the agents of Project Fear”. “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. He speaks for the many small and medium-sized businesses – the lifeblood of the economy – who cannot understand why they should comply with more and more regulation, over which this country has no democratic control.
“The British public deserve to have the facts put before them. They deserve a proper debate.”