Prime Minister David Cameron was accused of lying on the EU referendum, prompting a serious bid by his Conservative MPs to challenge his leadership position in another indication of how the acrimonious campaign is reshaping British politics.
As top Tories sparred in public, Cameron turned out on bank holiday Monday with London mayor Sadiq Khan, who he had previously accused of sharing the stage with extremist elements. Both forcefully made the case for Britain to vote to remain in the EU on June 23.
Now sharing the stage himself with Khan, Cameron congratulated him on his victory in the mayoral contest, saying: "I'm proud to be here with the mayor of London - with the Labour mayor of London - on this vital, vital issue.”
He hailed the fact that “someone who is a proud Muslim, a proud Brit and a proud Londoner can become mayor of the greatest city on Earth. That says something about our country.” He expected many disagreements with Khan but said they were both part of "an incredibly broad campaign" in favour of EU membership.
Under Conservative Party rules, a leadership contest can be triggered if 50 Conservative MPs ask for it. Three party MPs openly called for Cameron to quit and initiated the process of seeking a leadership contest, while others predicted a mid-term poll before Christmas.
History is against Cameron: the last two Conservative prime ministers – Margaret Thatcher and John Major – faced serious trouble due to rebellions in the party over Europe initiated by one or two MPs.
The three MPs who came out openly against Cameron are Bill Cash, chair of the European Scrutiny Committee, Nadine Dorries and Andrew Bridgen. Dorries said Cameron had “lied profoundly” over the referendum, while Bridgen said he was “finished.”
Dorries confirmed that she had initiated the letter seeking a party leadership contest, while Cash said he was infuriated by what he called Cameron’s “monumentally misleading propaganda,” and called for a more conciliatory tone in the campaign.
Senior Conservative leader and former chancellor, Ken Clarke, suggested that star Brexit campaigner Boris Johnson was exploiting people’s fears about immigration in a similar way to Donald Trump, US presidential candidate.
Clarke said: “I think Boris and Donald Trump should go away for a bit and enjoy themselves and not get in the way of the serious issues that modern countries in the 21st century face. He’s a much nicer version of Donald Trump but the campaign’s remarkably similar in my opinion and about as relevant to the real problems the public face.”