Downing Street is “panicked” over the EU referendum amid growing internal signs that support for the Leave campaign is surging.
Private data and internal polling which shows that after two weeks of building momentum there have been huge swings to the Brexit campaign has prompted growing alarm in the Remain camp, sources have said.
It has led to a marked change in strategy, with the campaign to keep Britain in the EU now orchestrating a series of highly personal attacks on Boris Johnson, one of the leaders of the Leave campaign.
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David Cameron’s team has adopted a “take out Boris strategy ” by allowing Tory Cabinet minister to claim he only backed a Brexit in order to further his ambition to be Prime Minister and associating him with Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader.
In a sign that the markets believe a Brexit is increasingly likely, the FTSE-100 on Friday suffered its biggest one-day fall since the beginning of the referendum campaign, falling by 1.86 per cent.
And the pound also dropped sharply on Friday night as a poll gave Leave a 10-point lead, with 55 per cent of voters now backing a Brexit.
It came as:
• The Queen was dragged into the row as the Prime Minister was accused of using the birthday honours list to reward nearly two dozen backers of the Remain campaign.
• Sir James Dyson, one of the country’s most notable self-made billionaires, discloses in a Telegraph interview that he is joining the Brexit campaign, branding Remain’s warnings about trade as “absolute cobblers”.
• Labour’s EU campaign was in chaos as senior figures in the party admitted many of their supporters are now backing a Brexit after Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to vociferously make the case for Remain.
• Justice Secretary Michael Gove’s Leave campaign warned that Britain will need seven new prisons by 2030 if immigration is not controlled.
• Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s finance minister, has ruled out Britain joining the single market if the country votes to leave the European Union, declaring that “out is out” for the UK.
• British victims of Libyan-sponsored IRA terrorism are being blocked from receiving millions of pounds in compensation because of human rights laws, the Government has admitted.
This weekend there will be an outpouring of patriotic sentiment as the nation celebrates the Queen’s 90th and Prince Phillip’s 95th birthday and the beginning of England’s campaign in the European football championships, which insiders believe could provide a further boost for the Leave campaign.
Government insiders have said that the Remain campaign has been “falling apart” following a series of salvos by Mr Johnson and Mr Gove.
Mr Cameron is on Sunday appearing on the BBC, in what is being seen as an attempt to relaunch the flagging Remain campaign.
Despite the Prime Minister claiming that he did not want to see the referendum campaign descend into a series of “blue-on-blue” attacks between Conservatives, the Remain campaign is now actively seeking to undermine Tories, it is understood.
During a televised debate on Thursday Amber Rudd, the Energy Secretary, made a series of highly personal attacks on Mr Johnson, repeatedly accusing him of only joining the Brexit campaign to further his own career.
She infuriated Eurosceptic MPs when she said of Mr Johnson: “He’s the life and soul of the party but he’s not the man you want driving you home at the end of the evening.”
Sources said that her lines of attack were orchestrated by senior figures in Downing Street and the Treasury.
On Friday, the Remain campaign released a poster featuring a mock-up of Mr Johnson, Michael Gove, the Tory Justice Secretary and Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, around a casino table rolling a dice.
The poster slogan reads: “Don’t let them gamble with your future.”
Sources close to Mr Johnson have said that senior Tories in the Remain campaign are resorting to “playground jibes” in a sign that “they are rattled, have no discipline, no ideas and no hope”.
During a town hall event for Facebook on Friday, Mr Cameron was asked if he feels “sorry” for the personal attacks on Mr Johnson during debates by members of his Cabinet.
Mr Cameron said: “I’ve done these debates, they’re lively affairs and that’s the way it is.”
However, the Prime Minister did suggest that he still intends to offer Mr Johnson a Cabinet position after the referendum.
The Leave campaign said a total of 21 prominent Remain supporters were named in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list, including Britain Stronger in Europe deputy chair Richard Reed, the founder of Innocent Drinks, who received a CBE.
Others include John Armitage, a founding partner of the hedge fund Egerton Capital, has given £15,000 to the IN campaign and is made a CBE.
And other awards went to financial donors to the In campaign as well as people who put their names to a series of joint letters from businessmen, entrepreneurs, scientists, doctors and the creative industries warning of the dangers of EU withdrawal.
Vote Leave chair and Labour MP Gisela Stuart denounced the awards as a “shabby stitch-up” and accused the Prime Minister of stooping to “a new low” in his drive to secure a Remain vote.
But Government sources rejected the charge as nonsense, pointing out that the names of those honoured were selected by independent committees and also included at least three prominent supporters of the Leave campaign.
In a special supplement published in today’s Daily Telegraph, Mr Johnson and Mr Cameron set out the arguments for and against the EU.
Mr Cameron says: “For me, remaining in the EU is the big, bold, British decision in this debate.”
Meanwhile, Mr Johnson writes: “This is the time to restore health to our democracy, to go global, and to believe in Britain. It’s win-win.”