ITV EU referendum debate: Boris Johnson focus of 'Remain' attacks

Campaigners for remaining in and leaving the EU have clashed in a fiery debate on ITV.

Nicola Sturgeon, Angela Eagle and Amber Rudd repeatedly attacked the "lies" of the leave campaign and attacked Boris Johnson for using the referendum to boost his Conservative leadership ambitions.

The main focus of Mr Johnson, Gisela Stuart and Andrea Leadsom on the leave side was encouraging voters to "take back control", particularly over immigration.

Members of both sides frequently interrupted each other, claiming what the other was saying was untrue.

Voters will decide on Britain's future membership of the EU in an in/out referendum on June 23.

Both sides were given a chance to outline their case at the start of the debate, before answering questions on immigration, the economy, the NHS, employment and women's rights and sovereignty.

Mr Johnson said the "prophets of doom" had been wrong in the past and wrong were wrong now and Britons should "believe in ourselves".

Ms Rudd said she was making a "positive case" for her side and said: "We know what we get if we remain but if we leave we just don't know."

  • Boris comes under attack

Mr Johnson was the focus of many barbs from the remain side, in particular over his desire to become prime minister and the claim that Britain sends £350 million a week to the EU.

Energy Secretary Ms Rudd launched a series of attacks on the former mayor of London, accusing him of peddling "misinformation".

The leave team stood by the £350m figure plastered on their battle bus, which Ms Sturgeon described as a "scandal" and an "absolute whopper".

At one point when Mr Johnson raised the issue of the £350m, Ms Eagle said: "That's a lie and you know it."

Ms Rudd added: "What is so misleading about this is the fact that being in the European Union makes us money.

"We're going to repaint that bus and put a leprechaun on one end, a great big rainbow on one side and a pot of gold at the end. Because that's all it is - pure fantasy."

Amber Rudd repeatedly attacked Boris Johnson. Credit: ITV

Mr Johnson's political ambitions were attacked by Ms Rudd. In the opening clash on immigration numbers, she turned on Mr Johnson, saying: "I fear that the only number that Boris is interested in is the one that says No 10."

Mr Johnson retorted that he was backing Leave because David Cameron had failed to secure the changes which would have enabled him to meet his commitment to cut net migration to below 100,000 in his EU re-negotiation.

"That did not happen in the re-negotiation. We didn't get anything of the kind," he said. "There has got to be democratic consent for the scale of the flows that we are seeing."

  • Immigration focus of leave arguments

Much like when Nigel Farage took questions from an ITV audience on Tuesday, the focus of many arguments by the leave side were on immigration.

They called on Britons to "take back control", with Ms Stuart warning the referendum could be the "last chance" to do so.

Ms Leadsom added: "If we stay in the EU there is no chance of controlling our immigration. The remain camp have failed to answer that question, people are genuinely concerned."

Ms Sturgeon hit back by attacking government cuts to public services, saying this was a bigger issue for the country than immigration.

"The impact of austerity on our public services is much greater than the impact of immigration," she said.

Andrea Leadsom said leaving was the only way to control immigration. Credit: ITV

Ms Leadsom said existing pressures on the NHS were due to "uncontrolled EU immigration".

She said: "There just is no doubt about that."

But Ms Sturgeon argued that immigrant workers were vital to the NHS.

"You're more likely to be treated by an immigrant on the NHS than you are to be treated in the next bed to an immigrant," she said.

Mr Johnson also spoke about the influence of EU laws, saying he and his family were "particularly concerned" because "on the streets of London, because of European judges there are terrorists and murderers and very serious criminals that we cannot deport."

  • Leave claims about economy discredited by remain

As the discussion turned to the economy, the issue remain have championed above all others, Ms Stuart warned that Britain could be forced to prop up struggling EU countries.

She said the EU's economy is "broken", adding: "We will end up having to pay for bailouts for these countries whether we like it or not."

She faced cries of "it's not true" from the other side as she did so.

Mr Johnson said: "We have no protection at all, as part of the EU from paying into this.

"They will take us further and further into a united states of Europe."

The remain side often accused the leave campaigners of lying. Credit: ITV

Ms Rudd accused him of "misleading the public" by ignoring the exemptions secured by Mr Cameron in his re-negotiation.

"We have vetoes, we can use them. Don't undermine this country's position," she told him.

Mr Johnson said Britain would still have access to the single market if it left the EU, but this was met by further heckling from the remain side, with Angela Eagle saying he was "making it up".

  • Sovereignty debate

Ms Sturgeon, who has campaigned for Scottish independence, said Britain was still independent while in the EU.

"We're independent countries that choose to work together for the greater good, let's keep hold of all of these gains," she said.

But she came under attack from Ms Leadsom and Mr Johnson for her stance.

Mr Johnson said she was "obviously keener to be ruled by Brussels than by Westminster politicians".

The debate was in front of a studio audience. Credit: ITV

Ms Leadsom added: "We're hearing from Nicola Sturgeon, 'We should remain in the European Union because as this country elected a Conservative government we need to stay in the EU so that it can overrule a democratically elected government and then do what she wants it to do - that is absolutely outrageous."

Ms Eagle said being in the EU gives Britain the best of both worlds.

"We control our own borders and we still have influence on the way that the EU writes its rules," she said.