George Osborne attacks 'economically illiterate' Brexit campaigners

Posted On: 
18th April 2016

George Osborne has branded Brexit campaigners “economically illiterate” and “not honest” in his most outspoken attack on his EU opponents.

George Osborne said the EU referendum amounts to the biggest vote since the Second World War
Credit: 
PA Images

The Chancellor raised the stakes ahead of the June vote by describing the referendum as the most important political decision since the Second World War.

He will launch a major paper from the Treasury later this morning which claims Britain’s GDP by 2030 would be 6% lower if it left the European Union, an implied cost of £4,300 per household.

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Mr Osborne hit out at those campaigning for a Leave vote for failing to come clean about the economic cost of Brexit.

He told the Today programme: “What is not honest and what is economically illiterate is to say we can have all the economic benefits of being in the EU and at the same time leave. That is having your cake and eating it.”

The final comment will be seen as a swipe at Mayor of London Boris Johnson, who famously said his policy on cake was “pro having it and pro eating it”.

After the International Monetary Fund warned about risks associated with Britain leaving the EU, and ahead of Barack Obama’s expected statement in favour of Remain later in the week, the Chancellor challenged Brexit supporters to come forward with their own international supporters.

“Where is a single ally or trading partner or credible international organisation that thinks it is a good idea for Britain to leave the European Union?” he asked.

Vote Leave, the official Brexit campaign, has already dismissed the Treasury’s numbers as “erroneous”.

Tory MP and eurosceptic Bernard Jenkin said the Chancellor "should be ashamed of himself" for issuing the document ahead of the referendum.

"This Chancellor... forecasted originally in 2010 that we were going to balance the Budget by 2015. Well we’re still borrowing billions and billions pounds a year. So his forecasts are not reliable," he told Sky News.

Fellow Conservative MP and prominent Brexit-supporter John Redwood dismissed the claims as "absurd" and "completely worthless".

The central figures in today’s paper are based on the UK securing a ‘Canada-style’ bilateral free trade deal with the EU, which would not cover the UK’s services sector.

The analysis will also study the ‘Norway option’ of membership of the European Economic Area, and the ‘WTO option’ which assumes no special deal with the EU.

Mr Osborne also said the referendum was the biggest question the post-war generation had to decide.

“It’s not about my job, my career, it’s not even about any one political party, it’s actually not even about the kind of issues you discuss in a general election; this is a massive decision for our generation, as big as anything we’ve ever been asked to address for those of us since the war,” he told the same programme.