LONDON • The rival camps in Britain's EU membership referendum tore into each other in an ill-tempered first television debate dominated by accusations of lies and scaremongering.
Former London mayor Boris Johnson, the figurehead of the campaign for a so-called Brexit, in particular came under concerted attack.
He was accused of being more interested in using the June 23 referendum to further his career than protecting British workers, reported Agence France-Presse.
Energy Secretary Amber Rudd, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and opposition Labour Party business spokesman Angela Eagle, the three "Remain" proponents, all alluded to Mr Johnson's position as the bookmakers' favourite to take over from Mr David Cameron as Conservative Party leader - and British prime minister.
"You need to look at the numbers," Ms Rudd said while answering a question about immigration during the two-hour ITV debate in London on Thursday.
LOOKING OUT FOR JUST ONE JOB
Boris, you don't seem to care about the millions of jobs that will be at risk if we leave the EU... I think you only care about one job, and that's your next one.
OPPOSITION LABOUR PARTY BUSINESS SPOKESMAN ANGELA EAGLE, attacking former London mayor Boris Johnson.
"Although I fear the only number that Boris is interested in is the one that says No. 10," she said, referring to 10 Downing Street, the prime minister's official residence, reported Bloomberg.
"Boris, you don't seem to care about the millions of jobs that will be at risk if we leave the EU," Ms Eagle said.
"I think you only care about one job, and that's your next one."
Ms Sturgeon picked over the same themes, asserting that Mr Johnson would unpick protections for workers in the event of a Brexit.
"Boris Johnson is not interested in your job," Ms Sturgeon told the audience. "He's only interested in David Cameron's job."
Mr Johnson, who was joined in the pro-Brexit camp by Labour lawmaker Gisela Stuart and Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom, Ms Rudd's subordinate, did not rise to the barbs, calling on his opponents not to "reduce this argument to a lot of personal stuff".
He was applauded by the audience when he hit back at Ms Sturgeon, accusing her of being "more keen on being ruled from Brussels than ruled from Westminster", reported The Guardian.
Mr Johnson was also criticised for the "Leave" campaign's repeated claim that Britain sends £350 million (S$685 million) a week to the European Union, a figure that has been discredited by a parliamentary panel and by the Office for National Statistics.
The figure is emblazoned on the campaign bus on which Mr Johnson has been touring the country.
"Get that lie off your bus," Ms Eagle said. Ms Sturgeon referred to it as a "giant whopper", a British term for a blatant untruth, reported Bloomberg.
The fire aimed by Ms Rudd at Mr Johnson will do little to dispel the growing image of a divided Conservative Party, in which more than 100 lawmakers have taken a pro-Brexit stance in direct opposition to Mr Cameron.
Ms Rudd wound up the debate with an attack on Mr Johnson's suitability for the Tory leadership.
"If I want expertise from Boris on a good joke, I'll ask you," she said. "Boris, well, he is the life and soul of the party, but he is not the man you want driving you home at the end of the evening."