David Cameron has defended personal attacks on Boris Johnson during a referendum debate, including a remark by energy secretary Amber Rudd, that "you wouldn't want him driving you home at the end of the night". Answering questions at a town hall meeting in London, the prime minister said that such exchanges were not unusual in debates.
“I’ve done these debates. They are lively affairs and that’s the way it is. I’m going to spend all my time, if I can, in the next 13 days on the arguments,” he said.
Mr Cameron himself faced a four-letter word tirade from a woman at the town hall who said she would vote to remain in the EU despite his government's record. And Ukip leader Nigel Farage described the prime minister as "dishonest Dave", urging voters to use the referendum to get rid of him.
Mr Farage, who criticised Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for allowing anti-semitism to fester within Labour, denied that his own party was racist or homophobic.
“We had Ukip people who, coming back from the pub, after one too many, said stupid or at times abusive or abrasive things. At the same over 200 councillors from the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats were actually arrested or imprisoned for crimines including rape, paedophilia, even planting bombs in North Wales,” he said.
The meeting came as Labour's shadow home secretary Andy Burnham warned that there was a "very real" danger that Britain would vote to leave the EU because Labour had failed to get its message across to core supporters. Former Labour leader Ed Miliband urged Labour voters to avoid the temptation to use the referendum to punish Mr Cameron.
“This is no mid-term protest, this is the choice of a generation. To those who would say they’d like to see David Cameron to lose his job – so do I – but not through a Brexit,” he said.
Labour voters are crucial to the Remain campaign’s success and senior figures in the party fear that Mr Corbyn’s lukewarm support is demotivating supporters. Labour MPs report that many constituents who usually vote Labour are leaning towards voting for Brexit because they perceive EU migrants as a burden on public services and housing.
Some recent polls have shown Leave taking the lead but polling expert John Curtice said on Friday that there has in fact been very little movement in the polls for weeks and the contest is effectively tied. He characterised the referendum as a debate about globalisation, with younger, more cosmopolitan voters tending to vote Remain and older, less educated people backing Brexit. He said that immigration remains the central issue for the Leave campaign.
“If the leave side are going to win this referendum they are going to have to persuade more voters to go with their feelings on immigration than they are currently doing so,” he said.