Belfast Telegraph

Senior Tory MP: Leave campaign spending argument 'reprehensible'

One of the central arguments made by the Leave camp is "misleading" and "reprehensible", a senior Tory MP said as he declared his backing for a vote to stay in the European Union.

Treasury Select Committee chairman Andrew Tyrie accused the Brexit camp of "bribery" by claiming there could be £350 million a week to spend on public services if the UK stopped paying into Brussels' coffers.

Mr Tyrie, whose cross-party committee carried out an extensive investigation into the claims made by both sides in the referendum debate, compared the Leave campaign's tactics to those used by Tony Blair in pushing the case for war in Iraq.

The senior Tory dismissed suggestions from Brexit-backers that he had been promised a knighthood or seat in the Lords for his public backing for the Remain camp.

Although Mr Tyrie and his committee expressed concerns about the Treasury estimates of the economic impact of Brexit, he said: "By far the worst example of misleading claims is Vote Leave's central claim that Brexit would lead to a £350 million fiscal windfall. This is simply untrue.

"It is particularly reprehensible, too, that the money is being allocated for spending by the Leave campaign - and several times over: on the NHS, schools, roads, regional airports, tax cuts, submarines to name but a few."

He added: "This really is nonsense politics, it's a form of electoral bribery, it's an order of magnitude worse than encountered in general elections.

"It's a false prospectus, it has some of the same corrosive characteristics as Tony Blair's claims on Iraq and I very much regret that the electorate is being expected to wade through this mountain of nonsense in order to get to some grains of truth."

Mr Tyrie's comparison to Iraq was swiftly condemned by Brexit-backing minister Priti Patel, who told The House magazine: "That's his point of view and he's entitled to it. I would say that there is really no comparison whatsoever - the Iraq war led to savage loss of life. To compare the two is not appropriate whatsoever."

In a speech at the Centre for Policy Studies think-tank, Mr Tyrie said although he was "split" over his decision, he would back Remain.

"I feel the emotional pull of leaving, but the remorseless logic of the arguments in favour of remaining are stronger," he said.

"Most experts, including Brexit supporters, have concluded that a short-term economic shock would accompany leaving the EU, bringing a reduction in GDP growth.

"In practical terms, this is likely to mean somewhat lower living standards than would otherwise be the case. Most experts have concluded there would also be a long-run cost, although this is less certain.

"There are economic risks of staying and leaving, but the risks are greater to leave."

Mr Tyrie warned that relations between the UK and EU would remain "bumpy" regardless of whether the country voted to stay or go on June 23.

And immigration - one of the key factors driving voters to back Leave - would remain an issue in British politics regardless of the outcome.

Brexit-backing MP Nadine Dorries used a message on Twitter - later deleted - to question what Mr Tyrie had been promised by Chancellor George Osborne to back Remain: "Knighthood? Lords? Lasagne in kitchen at No11? Sniff of your dirty socks?."

Mr Tyrie said: "I have always made clear it would be the greatest honour to serve in any government, but David Cameron has never offered me anything and I'm not aware that he is going to offer me anything."