Remain campaigners treat public like 'mere children', says Michael Gove

Justice secretary responds to Treasury report’s findings that Brexit would create £36bn blackhole by pointing out that immigration will continue to rise

Michael Gove’s speech will attack his own government’s failure to bring down immigration, in a sign of how increasingly divisive the row over Europe has become.

Michael Gove’s speech will attack his own government’s failure to bring down immigration, in a sign of how increasingly divisive the row over Europe has become.
Photograph: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

Michael Gove will accuse remain campaigners of treating people like “mere children” after his close friend and cabinet colleague, George Osborne, warned that leaving the EU would create a £36bn tax blackhole.

The justice secretary will say that a 200-page report published by the Treasury also contains an admission that immigration will continue to rise by hundreds of thousands year on year, amounting to a failure by his own Conservative government to reduce the net rate to below 100,000.

A day after the chancellor’s warnings dominated the news agenda, Gove will say: “The remain campaign want us to believe that Britain is beaten and broken … It treats people like mere children, capable of being frightened into obedience by conjuring up new bogeymen every night.”

Britain’s Secretary of State for Justice Gove leaves 10 Downing Street in London.

Britain’s Secretary of State for Justice Gove leaves 10 Downing Street in London. Photograph: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

The Treasury concluded that Brexit could cost British families £4,300 every year by 2030 and reduce tax receipts by £36bn, the equivalent of 8p on the basic rate of income tax.

Osborne’s suggestion that opponents of Britain’s membership of the EU were making an “economically illiterate” case led to a furious response from Conservative colleagues on the opposite side of the debate.

The comments underline just how divisive the battle of Britain’s future in the EU has become for the Conservative party, with cabinet colleagues and MPs pitted against each other. Gove’s speech raises the stakes by including a direct attack on his own government for failing to reduce immigration levels.

“The report from the Treasury is an official admission from the in campaign that if we vote to stay in the EU then immigration will to continue to increase by hundreds of thousands year on year,” Gove will say. “Over 250,000 people came to Britain from Europe last year. As long as we are in the EU we cannot control our borders and cannot develop an immigration policy which is both truly humane and in our long term economic interests.”

Vote Leave has focused on immigration because the Treasury report uses forecasts from the independent Office for Budget Responsibility, which suggests net migration will be above David Cameron’s 100,000 target every year of this parliament.

Gove will use his speech to also warn that the European court of justice will make a decision over whether prisoners can vote, intervene on how intelligence services monitor suspected terrorists and control asylum and refugee policy.

The intensity of the debate is likely to increase as opinions polls point to an uncomfortably tight referendum for the chancellor and prime minister. A new Guardian/ICM telephone poll, conducted over the weekend, puts the remain on 54% and leave on 46%, while a second poll – conducted online – suggests a dead heat.

Many Conservative MPs believe a narrow victory for the remain side could be the most dangerous outcome for Cameron and Osborne, because it would lead to a backlash among out campaigners who believe the government is using unfair tactics.

Osborne described the Treasury report as “serious and sober” as he launched it alongside energy secretary, Amber Rudd, work and pensions secretary, Stephen Crabb, and environment secretary, Elizabeth Truss.

It looked at three alternative scenarios for a post-Brexit Britain, from a Norway-style deal in which there would still be freedom of movement, a bilateral agreement like the EU has with Canada, or signing up to World Trade Organisation rules.

Osborne said the £36bn lower tax receipts under the Canadian model was equivalent to one third of the budget for NHS England. “Under any alternative, we’d trade less, do less business and receive less investment, and the price would be paid by British families. Wages would be lower and prices would be higher,” he said.

The chancellor said his position was backed up by economists from the IMF, OECD, Bank of England and London School of Economics, and claimed all of Britain’s trading partners wanted it to remain in the EU, and accused out campaigners of saying that allowing people to be poorer was a “price worth paying”.

As well as support from Rudd, Truss and Crabb, he received the backing of business minister, Anna Soubry, who said Gove’s intervention was another example of Vote Leave failing to set out a detailed vision for an exit will look like.

But the publication was pounced on by out campaigners who claimed it was absurd to make predictions 14 years into the future, and wrong to turn GDP estimates into a figure per household.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, another prominent out campaigner, also hit back, claiming that 24 June marked independence day for Britain if the country backed Brexit. “Her majesty’s Treasury of course were the people who said we should stay in the ERM [exchange rate mechanism], and that turned out to be a disaster; they said there would be economic benefits of joining the Euro, and that turned out to be a complete disaster. The Treasury has not been totally successful in all its economic forecasts – let’s be honest.”

Chuka Umunna, Labour MP for Streatham, accused his opponents of letting the mask slip. “Millions of working families will be horrified that the leave campaigns believe pursuit of an ideological agenda is worth sacrificing their jobs, livelihoods and living standards. They should be ashamed of themselves,” he said.

The in campaigner also hit out at Gove who he accused of cutting back on schools. “People will remember that Michael Gove’s first act as education secretary was to stop investment in schools in my constituency and elsewhere.”

Arron Banks, the multimillionaire co-founder of Leave.EU, said: “Their worst-case scenario of £4,300 per household is a bargain basement price.” The group calculated that the figures added up to 21p per person, per hour, which they said was in exchange for national independence and secure borders. “Freedom has never been so cheap,” he claimed.

It comes as the Royal College of Midwives announces its support for remaining in the EU, claiming that the union has driven rights for women to have paid time off to attend antenatal appointments, and has helped maintain safety in the NHS.

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