Two top Tories hitherto seen as close friends of Prime Minister David Cameron on Sunday savaged him in a letter, asking him to accept the failure of his government’s election promise to reduce immigration to “tens of thousands instead of hundreds of thousands.”
In the continuing war of words between the Remain and Leave camps ahead of the June 23 referendum, justice secretary Michael Gove and former London mayor Boris Johnson turned on Cameron, saying the failure was “corrosive of public trust.”
It is clear from recent weeks that the main issue for the Remain camp is the economy (that Britain is better off within the EU), while the Leave camp has been harping on 'uncontrolled' immigration from within the EU, which remains a sensitive public issue.
The premise of the renewed attack was the principle of ‘free movement’ within the EU, which enables citizens of the 28 member states to move and settle in any member state. Britain is unable to stop large numbers of people moving in from within the EU.
The letter comes in the context of last week’s official figures that showed net migration at 333,000, again missing the Cameron government’s target set since 2010 to reduce it to “tens of thousands instead of hundreds of thousands.”
Gove and Johnson wrote: “Voters were promised repeatedly at elections that net migration could be cut to tens of thousands. This promise is plainly not achievable as long as the UK is a member of the EU and the failure to keep it is corrosive of public trust in politics.”
They also said they were “particularly concerned about the impact of free movement in the future on public services…Class sizes will raise and waiting lists will lengthen if we don't tackle free movement.”
Downing Street countered the missive by saying: “This is a transparent attempt to distract from the fact that the overwhelming majority of economists and businesses believe leaving the single market would be disastrous for jobs, prices and opportunities for people.”
According to a survey of more than 600 economists published in The Observer, 88% of respondents said leaving the EU single market would damage Britain's growth prospects over the next five years.
Priti Patel, minister of state for employment, added to the attack on Cameron and the Remain camp by saying that he and chancellor George Osborne did not care about the effects of immigration on local services because they were rich.
It was clear from remarks in the news media on Sunday that with less than a month remaining for polling, Cameron was likely to face a coup or a leadership challenge if Britain votes to leave the EU on June 23.