Mervyn King accuses Cameron and Osborne of treating voters like ‘idiots’ during EU debate

Posted On: 
27th June 2016

The Government treated voters like “idiots” and must take responsibility for setting a tone of “scaremongering” during the referendum, the former governor of the Bank of England has said.

Former governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King
PA Images

In a stinging attack on George Osborne and David Cameron, Mervyn King argued the senior Tories were guilty of trying to frighten voters with “exaggerated” claims throughout the run up to the 23 June vote.

While he conceded both sides of the debate were guilty of hyperbolic arguments, Lord King laid blame at the door of the Government for establishing a culture of “scare stories”.

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He said the Chancellor’s warning of an emergency Budget after leaving the EU, containing £30bn of spending cuts and tax hikes, was the “nadir of the exaggeration” orchestrated during the campaign.

In an interview with the BBC, the peer said: “This is the most dispiriting campaign I can recall in my lifetime. Both sides were exaggerating; I think the Government has to take responsibility for setting the tone for that. I do think that they said things which were not easy to sustain or support.”

He added: “I was travelling around the UK a lot of that time, and I was struck by how many people said to me that they didn’t like the scaremongering tactics, they didn’t like to be told that if they were to vote to leave they would be idiots.

“And if you say to someone you are an idiot if you don’t agree with me, you’re not likely to bring them in your direction.”

The UK voted to leave the European Union by 51.9% to 48.1%, leading Mr Cameron to announce his intention to resign as Prime Minister by October this year.

Mr Osborne today rowed back on his warning of an emergency Budget following Brexit, as he sought to assure the markets plans were in place to secure Britain’s economic future.

However, prior to last week's vote the Treasury released analysis warning of the effect on household incomes while Mr Osborne cautioned of a “DIY recession” from Brexit.

Lord King said the Treasury was now in a “difficult position” following their “exaggerated” forecasts.

“We’ve already seen in the space of this morning that there will not be an emergency Budget. I think that was perhaps the nadir of the exaggeration, the idea that it made sense now or even this year to set a Budget because of what may happen five, ten 15 years down the road makes no sense. And we will have to see what happens,” he said.

“Now, if it’s the case that the Treasury forecasts are right and we’re facing a recession, well that would not be the time to have a Budget to raise taxes and cut spending – the opposite.

“So I was baffled by the idea that the emergency Budget to raise taxes and cut spending would either be sensible in the short run, or that we knew anything enough about the long run to make that judgment today.”

Lord King said he “leaned towards neither” side in the EU debate and was “rather put off by both campaigns”.