George Osborne teams up with old foe Ed Balls to fight Brexit
The former Commons sparring partners even shared the same soundbite.
George Osborne’s fiery exchanges with Ed Balls were a regular highlight of the last parliament as the pair clashed over the state of the economy. Balls was even once branded ‘"the most annoying person in modern politics" by Osborne’s good friend David Cameron.
But the Chancellor and his former sparring partner put their differences to one side for one day only as they joined forces in a hangar at Stansted airport to argue for remaining in the European Union.
In one of the unlikeliest alliances referendum campaign so far, Osborne, Balls and Vince Cable spoke against the backdrop of a Ryanair Boeing 737. And all three repeated the soundbite that leaving the EU was "a one-way ticket to a poorer Britain".
Osborne also hit back at Brexit campaigners who have accused him of orchestrating a range of interventions on the impact Brexit would have on the UK’s economy.
"They say it’s all a massive conspiracy. So that’s everyone from Mark Carney to Christine Lagarde, to Barack Obama, to the entire editorial team at ITV, the staff at the IMF and the OECD, to hundreds of economists, to a majority of leaders of small, medium and large firms – they think they’re all part of some global stitch-up to give misinformation to the British people.
"The next thing we know the Leave camp will be accusing us all of faking the moon landings, kidnapping Shergar, and covering up the existence of the Loch Ness monster.”
On teaming up with Balls and Cable, he stated: "There is a reason the three of us are standing here today, putting aside our very obvious differences. It’s not a conspiracy – it’s called a consensus."
Balls said he respected Osborne for facing down the eurosceptics in his own party, and compared the chancellor’s stance to his own decision to refuse to back joining the euro when Labour was in government.
"There was a time when it would have been much easier for me, particularly, to agree with other members of my party that it would be the right thing to join. It would have been much easier particularly recently to go along with the Brexiteers in his own party, but George hasn’t done that, because he knows it would be the wrong thing for Britain’s national interest."
He spelled out the benefits of the single market, including lower air fares and cheaper roaming charges, and insisted: "There are times to put party politics aside, and this is one of those moments."
Balls wound up Osborne throughout the last parliament with his constant heckling of the chancellor, turning himself into a hate figure for many Tory MPs in the process.
In 2011, Cameron described Balls as "the most annoying person in modern politics". But he was by no means the first senior Tory to take aim at the Labour heavyweight.
From 1994 to 1999, Balls served as economic adviser to Gordon Brown, during which period it emerged that he had written a key speech for the then shadow chancellor that used the phrase "post-neoclassical endogenous growth theory". This provoked the Tory grandee Michael Heseltine to famously retort at 1994 Tory conference:
"So there you have it. The final proof. Labour’s brand new shining modernist economic dream. But it wasn’t Brown’s. It was Balls."