Former British Prime Minister John Major took aim at Brexit proponents, calling their campaign squalid, underscoring how rattled the "Remain" campaign is after a series of polls showed a narrowing margin over "Leave".

Major dismissed former London Mayor Boris Johnson as a court jester in his defence of Britain's European Union membership in a BBC television interview. The ferocious debate has split the Conservative Party down the middle, with the fates of Johnson, Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne tied to the outcome of the June 23 referendum.

Polls show the race tightening in the past week, spooking some investors who had bet that "Remain" was on course to prevail. A poll published in the Observer showed "Leave" ahead by 43 per cent to 41 per cent. Today, bookmaker Ladbrokes Plc said that support for the 'Leave' camp has showed no signs of slowing down.

"Leave" proponents have begun "to feed out to the British people a whole galaxy of inaccurate and frankly untrue information," Major said.


"What they have not done is to tell us what would be the position if we get a vote to leave. I think it would be chaotic and damaging, and I think the people who would suffer the most would be the ordinary man and woman in the street."

With just under three weeks to go until Britons vote, both sides are intensifying their rhetoric. Johnson said in a BBC interview that the UK wouldn't be part of the single market if it voted to leave, and that the nation could take back control of its laws and borders. Fellow Conservative Michael Gove said in an ITV interview that migration would be lower in the event of an exit.

"Having lost the economic argument, I think their campaign is verging on the squalid," Major said. "I am angry at the way the British people are being misled. This is much more important than a general election. This is going to affect people, their livelihoods, their future, for a very long time."

In his interview, Johnson said his claims that Britain sends £350 million a week to Brussels and that Turkey is on track to join the EU were credible.

"There is something worryingly undemocratic about the EU as it is currently set up," Johnson said. "Remain" campaigners need to answer questions about how public services will cope with continued migration, he said.

Penny Mordaunt, a Tory MP, said that Major had no answer for the British public on the risks of staying in the world's largest trading bloc.

Having lost the economic argument, I think their campaign is verging on the squalid.


"The 'In' campaign had an opportunity to properly engage in the debate [today] and explain why the risks of remaining in the EU are worth it," she said. "Instead, all they were able to offer was name calling and an attempt to rewrite history, rather than a serious debate about the issues. The British people deserve better than that."

Both sides have accused each other of scaremongering, "Leave" on immigration and "Remain" on the economy. The campaign to stay in the EU released research showing leaving may add £920 to the annual cost of the average mortgage, as tighter credit conditions push up home-loan rates.

"Nearly all experts agree there will instant shocks to the economy if we leave the EU," Cameron said. "There is a clear and present danger of higher mortgage rates."

The chances of Britain voting to leave the EU equate to 29 per cent, according to the odds quoted by Ladbrokes. "Remain" is still rated the strong favorite, the company said in a press release.

"Punters are backing 'Leave' like it's going out of fashion," said Jessica Bridge of Ladbrokes. "If the money continues it won't be long before the odds shorten once again."

- Bloomberg