Boris Johnson slams British Chamber for Director General suspension over Brexit comments

The London Mayor has labelled the Remain campaign as ‘Project fear’ amid fierce rows over claims of scaremongering by Mr Cameron and the Government.

Whilst Number 10 strenuously denied involvement in Mr Longworth’s suspension Mr Johnson said: ‘It is absolutely scandalous that John Longworth has been forced to step aside.

‘This is a man who reached the conclusion – after long reflection and a lifetime’s experience of business – that it would be better to vote Leave.

‘His verdict reflects the reality – that the EU has changed out of all recognition from the Common Market that this country joined.

‘He speaks for the many small and medium sized businesses – the lifeblood of the economy – who cannot understand why they should comply with more and more regulation, over which this country has no democratic control.

‘It cannot be right that when someone has the guts to dissent from the establishment line, he or she is immediately crushed by the agents of Project Fear.’

The BCC is remaining neutral in the referendum campaign and Mr Longworth stressed he was giving his personal opinion as he used his keynote speech at the organisation’s conference on Thursday to say the UK might be better off outside the EU.

The Sunday Telegraph said a friend of Mr Longworth claimed Downing Street had ‘bullied’ and been ‘putting pressure’ on BCC board members to suspend their director-general.

But a No 10 source said: ‘This is simply not true. This is a matter for the BCC. No pressure was put on the BCC to suspend John Longworth.’

Former defence secretary Liam Fox today claimed the Remain campaign was turning into a ‘mafia protection racket’.

He told the Sunday Times: ‘Project Fear is turning into Project Intimidation. Threats and bullying do not reflect well on those who promote them and are likely to infuriate the British people.’

And he slammed David Cameron’s reform negotiations. ‘Once the Prime Minister had come back with his deal, that was the final nail in the coffin,’ he declared.

Longworth spoke to the Daily Mail soon after finishing his controversial Brexit speech – and while Chancellor George Osborne took to the same conference stage to preach the benefits of Britain’s EU membership.

A little over 24 hours later, Longworth was suspended from his role at the BCC.

Mayor of London and Brexit Campaigner Boris Johnson said this weekend that Longworth was the victim of ‘an establishment plot’.

But while the boss’s speech to the BCC’s annual conference has already sparked a political storm, his words to The Mail on Sunday are even more explosive.

Remarkably, no one at the BCC yesterday would comment on the row. The organisation has officially adopted a neutral position, and polls of its members show 60 per cent in favour of staying in, with 30 per cent in favour of leaving.

But even as Longworth gave the interview, unease was evidently growing among top BCC figures.

On Friday it held an emergency meeting of its 11-strong board and decided to suspend Longworth. It is not known if he himself attended the crisis meeting.