Boris Johnson: Suspended BCC chief 'crushed' by EU 'Project Fear'
John Longworth, the director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), was suspended from the business group after he said the UK's prospects could be “brighter” outside the EU.
The BCC has vowed to remain neutral on the issue due to the divide in its membership, although Mr Longworth noted he was speaking in a personal capacity.
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Downing Street, which has been accused of running a relentless scare campaign against Brexit - dubbed 'Project Fear' - insisted it played no part in the suspension.
Prominent EU-Out campaigner Mr Johnson argued it was “absolutely scandalous” Mr Longworth had been made to step aside.
"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,” the London Mayor said in a statement.
"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."
Mr Johnson argued it was wrong that "when someone has the guts to dissent from the establishment line, he or she is immediately crushed by the agents of 'project fear'".
Eurosceptic Conservative MP David Davis called on Downing Street to make clear it did not put pressure on the BCC to suspend Mr Longworth.
He argued the “last thing we want to see is a witch-hunt against business leaders” who call for Brexit.
“We also need a clear statement by 10 Downing Street that the Government was not involved in pressurising the BCC into suspending Mr Longworth,” he added.
“We need to know there was no contact between ministers and their officials before Friday’s BCC board meeting that took the decision to suspend its chief.”
Mr Davis said Downing Street had “form” in such matters, claiming there have been reports David Cameron has promised peerages to business leaders who back remaining in the EU.
But No 10 insisted it was surprised by the suspension and denied any involvement.
"This is simply not true. This is a matter for the BCC. No pressure was put on the BCC to suspend John Longworth," a spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, Tory former Defence Secretary Liam Fox, who is also campaigning to leave the EU, accused the government of behaving like a “mafia protection racket” by using “intimidation” against its opponents.
“Project Fear is turning into Project Intimidation. Threats and bullying do not reflect well on those who promote them and are likely to infuriate the British people,” he argued in a statement.
GOVE ON TERROR
Elsewhere, Brexit supporter and Justice Secretary Michael Gove warned remaining in the bloc would in fact make it harder to protect the UK against terrorism.
"The power to take decisions about deporting people or about counterterrorist surveillance is being taken away from the UK,” he told The Sunday Times.
“The far right is stronger across the continent than at any time since the 1930s because of the EU, Golden Dawn in the Greek parliament are explicitly Hitler worshippers and that is a direct consequence of what has happened with Greece and the single currency.”