Lawmakers accuse London Mayor Johnson of exaggerating arguments for Brexit

By Kylie MacLellan
London Mayor Boris Johnson leaves his home in London, Britain March 23, 2016. REUTERS/Neil Hall

By Kylie MacLellan

LONDON (Reuters) - London Mayor Boris Johnson was rebuked by lawmakers on Wednesday for putting forward what they described as exaggerated and misleading arguments for why Britain should leave the European Union.

Johnson, tipped as a potential successor to Prime Minister David Cameron, is the de facto figurehead of the 'Out' campaign ahead of a June 23 referendum on Britain's membership of the EU.

During three hours of often testy exchanges, parliament's Treasury Select Committee quizzed Johnson over his claims of EU interference in everything from the recycling of tea-bags to preventing children under eight from blowing up balloons.

Committee chairman Andrew Tyrie, a fellow Conservative, accused Johnson of presenting only the costs and not the benefits of membership and said many may view his arguments as "exaggeration to the point of misrepresentation".

"You are illustrating ... a very partial, busking really, humoresque approach to a very serious question for the UK," said Tyrie, who has not announced which way he plans to vote.

"What we really need is a much more balanced (approach) in which people make an effort to qualify and represent the points that they make and represent each others' views with some accuracy."

Tyrie said an example Johnson had previously cited of EU restrictions to coffin sizes could not be backed up, telling the mayor "the story is a figment of your imagination".

He also questioned whether Johnson's claims in several areas, including over the impact of EU membership on wages, the economic effect of leaving the bloc and the amount of British legislation that comes from Brussels, could be misleading.

Labour lawmaker Wes Streeting said Johnson did not have facts to support his arguments, writing on Twitter during the session that he was "Bombastic, full of character, armed with an argument, but devoid of any facts".

Johnson said he stood by his arguments and accused the 'In' camp of scaremongering.

"There is a great deal of effort being made at the moment to deprecate the views of those who think we should leave, to undermine their point of view and to say that everything we say about the EU is somehow mythical," he said.

Tyrie closed the session on an exasperated note, telling Johnson: "You're in danger of getting back to delivering us grains of truth with mountains of nonsense again, I'm afraid."

(Additional reporting by William James and William Schomberg; editing by Stephen Addison)