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John Major Launches Extraordinary Attack On "Court Jester" Boris Johnson

"Throughout the whole of my political life, people have regarded me as being guilty of understatement – I am angry," said the former PM.

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Sir John Major, the former prime minister, has launched an extraordinary attack on "court jester" Boris Johnson for the way the former London mayor has "misled" the British people about the case to leave the European Union.

Speaking on The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday morning, Major said he was "angry" about the Leave campaign, and that its message was "verging on the squalid" and "misleading people to an extraordinary extent".

He said the NHS is "about as safe" with Johnson and fellow anti-EU campaigner Michael Gove as it was "with a pet hamster in the presence of a hungry python".

Although Major insisted he didn't want to personalise his attack, he had some stinging criticism of Johnson – the most prominent Leave campaigner – who he suggested was guilty of dividing the Conservative party through a personal ambition to become prime minister.

"I like Boris, I don't know him well, but he's a very engaging and charming court jester, and a very engaging and charming public figure, and he's very likable and people like him," said the former prime minister. "But I think I would offer him this piece of advice:

"If the Leave campaign, led by Boris, continue to divide the Conservative party as they are doing at this present time, and if Boris has the laudable ambition – for it is a laudable ambition – to become prime minister, he will find, if he achieves that, he will not have the loyalty of a party he divided."

Major said Iain Duncan Smith had been "serially disloyal" to the party in the 1990s before he became leader, after which he struggled to gain loyalty from the Conservatives himself. Johnson, Major suggested, should learn from that experience.

The former prime minister said he was forced to make such a pointed attack due to the "nonsense on stilts" approach he accused the Leave campaign of taking on issues such as how much the UK pays to the EU, the possibility of Turkey joining the EU, and exaggeration about immigration.

"I think throughout the whole of my political life, people have regarded me as being guilty of understatement," said Major. "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 to come. If they are given honest, straightforward facts and they decide to leave then that is a decision the British people take.

"But if they decide to leave on the basis of inaccurate information, inaccurate information known to be inaccurate, then I regard that as deceitful."

Johnson, who appeared on Marr immediately after Major, refused to accept the former prime minister's criticism and said the Remain campaign was attempting to reduce the EU debate to a personality contest.

"Nonsense, absolute nonsense," said Johnson, after being asked about Major's suggestion that the former London mayor's anti-EU stance was a cynical attempt to become prime minister. "Obviously there is going to be temptation by one side or the other, particularly the Remain side, to turn it into a personality conversation.

"My view about the EU has changed but that is because the EU has changed out of all recognition. It is now totally different from what we signed up to in 1972, and it is turning into a federal superstate.

"We would be safer taking back control and voting Leave on June 23."

Jamie Ross is a Scotland reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Edinburgh.

Contact Jamie Ross at jamie.ross@buzzfeed.com.

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