Iain Duncan Smith has accused David Cameron of insincerity and an attempt to deceive the public over EU immigration, as the out campaign stepped up its attacks on the prime minister’s character.
The senior Conservative, a former party leader who resigned from Cameron’s cabinet in March, claimed to have identified two lies in two sentences spoken by the prime minister on ITV’s Good Morning Britain.
Duncan Smith said the prime minister was wrong to say there was a legal right to send people home if they did not have a job and that EU migrants were entitled to jobseeker’s allowance after three months of living in the UK.
“I’m astonished at these comments, which are deeply insincere – and a clear attempt to deceive the British public,” the former work and pensions secretary said.
Cameron told the programme on Friday that he had negotiated a deal with the EU so that when people came to the UK to work they had to go home if they did not find a job and they did not get unemployment benefit when they arrived.
“Wrecking our economy by coming out of the single market and hitting businesses and jobs, that is a terrible way of trying to deal with the issue,” the prime minister said.
In a briefing note, Vote Leave suggested that jobless EU migrants should be deported, saying a consequence of the failure to do so has been a stark rise in homelessness.
“The truth is that for as long as we are a member of the European Union we are powerless to control the number of people coming to this country. And yesterday’s damning home affairs report shows conclusively that even if EU migrants commit serious crimes, the government is unable to remove them.
“On his claims about benefits, this is the worst kind of gesture politics. I know, because I was in charge of the department responsible for this area. EU migrants are legally entitled to unemployment benefits after three months in the country – and as to the deal to address this after the referendum, the British people shouldn’t hold their breath.”
The out campaign is increasingly stepping up attempts to paint Cameron as untrustworthy and damaged as a leader, especially after three Tory MPs suggested he should face a leadership challenge following the election.
It comes after an audience at Sky News cast doubt on the prime minister’s personal integrity during a live question-and-answer session.
One audience member accused him of hypocrisy for linking the Labour London mayor, Sadiq Khan, to Islamist extremists and then sharing a platform with him, while another asked what he thought about his character and reputation having been damaged by scaremongering during the campaign.
In response, Cameron insisted he had genuine fears about leaving the EU and believed it was necessary to campaign with political rivals, as the issue was much bigger than one party.
He insisted it was possible to meet the challenge of dealing with migration from within the EU, and appealed to viewers not to gamble the futures of their children and grandchildren on a “roll of the dice” by leaving the EU.
“The way to meet that challenge must not be to leave the single market, harm our economy, hurt jobs and damage our country. We have got to find the right way of dealing with the movement of people, not the wrong way,” he said.
Duncan Smith’s attack on his party leader is a significant escalation in the feuding that has ripped through the Conservative party during the referendum campaign. The ferocity of the infighting will make it increasingly difficult for Cameron to unify the party after the referendum, regardless of the result.
Previously, Michael Gove, the justice secretary, and Boris Johnson, the former London mayor, have suggested that Cameron’s failure to hit his target of bringing down immigration to tens of thousands a year, not hundreds of thousands, was “corrosive of public trust”.
However, Duncan Smith’s comments are the most direct assault on the prime minister’s character by a senior member of the Vote Leave camp.
The remain side have already targeted Johnson’s credibility in attacks that the Brexiters believe were orchestrated by Downing Street. The Tory former deputy prime minister Michael Heseltine accused Johnson of behaving “irresponsibly [and] recklessly” and making “preposterous, obscene political remarks”.
Ken Clarke, a Tory former chancellor and home secretary, said Johnson was not serious and just a nicer version of Donald Trump, while the Lib Dem former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said earlier on Friday that the former London mayor was like “Trump with a thesaurus”.
Asked about Duncan Smith’s attack on Cameron, a Downing Street source said they would leave the out campaign to speak for themselves and the remain camp wanted to focus on the policy issues.
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