UK: Cameron using ‘spiv Mugabe antics’

UK premier David Cameron has been accused of overseeing “spiv (a well-dressed petty criminal) Robert Mugabe antics” to win the EU referendum by a Tory MP in a remarkable attack over pro-EU leaflets being sent to all voters.

British prime minister David Cameron

British prime minister David Cameron

Nigel Evans, a former Tory vice-chairman, compared the government’s attempts to keep Britain in the EU to the Zimbabwean dictator’s efforts to cling onto power.

It triggered a reprimand from David Lidington, the Europe minister, who said making comparisons to campaigns that have seen “murder, maiming and intimidation” of voters was not the MP’s “finest hour”.

The heated exchange marked a new low for ‘blue-on-blue’ attacks over Europe and will increase fears the party’s civil war will intensify as voting day approaches.

It came as MPs gathered in Parliament for the first time since the government revealed it would be sending out a pro-EU leaflet to some 27 million households outlining the “facts” of the debate.

The 16-page brochure has been justified by Cameron as explaining the government’s decision to back staying in the EU.

However, the use of £9.3 million (US$13.2) of taxpayers’ money to issue a leaflet which details messages similar to those of the In campaign has triggered fury from those backing Brexit.

Nigel Evans, a former Tory vice-chairman who spends time observing elections around the world, produced the most vicious attack of the debate.

He said: “If I witnessed in any of the countries that I go to, the sort of spiv Robert Mugabe antics that I’ve seen by this government then I would condemn the conduct of that election as being not fair.”

Europe minister Lidington responded: “I think that when my Right Honourable friend reflects on what he’s just said and that the election campaigns in Zimbabwe in the recent past have involved the murder, maiming and intimidation of voters he might recognise that what he’s just said was not his finest moment in the House.”

Earlier in the debate a string of Tory backbenchers widened out their criticism over the issue to call  into question the honesty of the government.

Liam Fox, the former defence secretary who served under Cameron, dubbed the leaflet a “dodgy dossier” and said that it contained not facts but “opinions, assertion and suppositions”.

He warned it “betrayed any sense of fairness in the process in the referendum” and accused the government of having “abdicated its responsibility to tell the truth”.

Crispin Blunt, a former Tory whip, said that the leaflet would do “damage to the government’s reputation for straight-dealing on this issue” and would backfire.

John Redwood, the former Welsh Secretary, called the pro-EU material an “abuse of public money” and an “insult to the electorate” that will inadvertently encourage people to vote to leave the EU.

Other Tory MPs dubbed the leaflet a “crass” and “deeply unfair” piece of campaign material that should be treated by voters with a “heavy health warning”.

However pro-EU Conservatives returned jibes over the ferocity of interventions from their colleagues who are calling for Brexit.

Sir Nicholas Soames, the Tory MP and grandson of Sir Winston Churchill, said that “outside this incestuous hothouse of the Palace of Westminster” voters understood the government should tell people where it stands.

He added that “almost all grown-up sane opinion would want to know what the government’s position is” on the EU referendum.

Ken Clarke, the pro-EU former chancellor, said it was an “absurdity” to criticise the government over the leaflet and accused Tory Eurosceptics as seeing the referendum as “some sporting jape”.

Lidington said that research suggested most voters wanted to know where the government stood on the question of Britain’s membership of the EU.

He insisted ministers had “acted reasonably and responsibly” in sending out the leaflet and that the wording was “extremely sober” and not “over-egging the pudding”.

He also dismissed claims over the cost to the taxpayer of the leaflet by saying it worked out at just 34p per household and noted the Out campaign will also be given a free mailshot.


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