Tory party rifts grow over Brexit

By Peter Dominiczak, Steven Swinford in London

The source said the Prime Minister would not even make eye contact with Eurosceptic ministers and ignores them when they pass in corridors. Photo / AP
The source said the Prime Minister would not even make eye contact with Eurosceptic ministers and ignores them when they pass in corridors. Photo / AP

The Conservative Party's civil war over Europe deepened yesterday amid accusations over the British Government's handling of the NHS and claims that Prime Minister David Cameron is ignoring Eurosceptic ministers.

Vote Leave, the Brexit campaign group led by Justice Secretary Michael Gove, said the NHS had "plummeted into financial crisis" under Jeremy Hunt and accused the Health Secretary of "scaremongering" over the risk of leaving the European Union.

A senior government source told the Daily Telegraph that Cameron now refuses to acknowledge ministers who back Brexit.

The source said the Prime Minister would not even make eye contact with Eurosceptic ministers and ignores them when they pass in corridors.

Downing Street denied the accusation but an "insider" was quoted as comparing Eurosceptics to Isis (Islamic State) over their apparent refusal to negotiate.

Earlier this year, Cameron lifted "collective responsibility" rules for members of the Government, meaning that they are able to campaign on both sides of the EU argument.

Cameron warned ministers on opposite sides to treat each other with "respect and courtesy", but the campaign has been marked by a series of spats which have divided the party.

A source said: "It has got pretty bad. David doesn't even make eye contact when he passes the eurosceptics in the corridor. It's like school when you annoy the popular crowd. But I suppose that's all he knows so it is to be expected."

In one of the most outspoken attacks of the referendum campaign, Vote Leave yesterday accused Hunt of "scaremongering" over the risk of leaving the EU and claimed that the health service has "plummeted into financial crisis" under his leadership.

It made the statement after Hunt said the NHS would face budget cuts, falling standards and an exodus of overseas doctors if Britain voted to leave the EU.

The Department of Health was left in the unusual position of having to defend the Government's record on health from an attack by a Cabinet minister-led campaign group.

Michael Gove. Photo / AP
Michael Gove. Photo / AP

MPs campaigning for Britain to leave the EU were also infuriated after a "Downing Street insider" suggested that negotiating with Eurosceptics was like trying to negotiate with Isis. "You ask them, 'OK, what do you want?' and their response is, 'We want you dead'," the source told the Mail on Sunday.

The NHS row is likely to resurface as Eurosceptics believe pressure on public services due to immigration from Europe is an area that resonates with the public.

The Health Secretary, said in an article for the Observer that leaving the EU "would inevitably mean less money for public services like the NHS".

Matthew Elliott, the chief executive of Vote Leave, responded: "Does this Government's scaremongering know no bounds? Under Jeremy Hunt's stewardship the NHS has plummeted into a financial crisis."

A No 10 source denied Cameron had been avoiding Eurosceptic ministers: "He has gone out of his way to ensure ministers campaigning to leave have been able to carry on in their portfolios. Anonymous sources claiming otherwise should get their facts straight before making false claims."

The latest series of rows came as Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, faced attacks over his support for Brexit. The former Tory MP Matthew Parris called Johnson "dishonest and reckless" in a column. In another newspaper article, Petronella Wyatt, the woman with whom Johnson had an affair 12 years ago, broke her silence on their relationship. She claimed in the Mail on Sunday that Johnson wants to be Prime Minister because he is a "loner" who has a "need to be liked".

Vote Leave was forced to apologise after two of the country's best-known entrepreneurs denied signing a letter it organised from business leaders backing a Brexit.

David Ross, the co-founder of Carphone Warehouse, and John Caudwell, the billionaire co-founder of Phones 4u, said they did not put their names to the list.

It came as Business Minister Anna Soubry, who is in favour of Britain staying in the EU, accuses those advocating a Brexit of telling "untruths". In an article for the Daily Telegraph she says: "All they offer is risk at a time of uncertainty. And with our children and grandchildren's future at stake, that's a gamble we cannot take."

- Daily Telegraph UK

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