Finance minister George Osborne, who ruled himself out of the race to be Britain’s next premier Tuesday (28 June), played a key role in warning against Brexit, heading a campaign rivals dubbed “Project Fear”.
The Daily Telegraph dubbed him the “kamikaze chancellor”, in reference to his formal title as chancellor of the exchequer, suggesting he would stop at nothing to secure a vote to stay in the EU and aid his political mentor, Prime Minister David Cameron.
He drew particular anger from eurosceptics in his Conservative party, who accused him of scaremongering — to which he countered that those wanting to leave the European Union were “economically illiterate”.
His warning in the final days that a “Leave” vote would force him to rip up his current budgetary plans, slash funding to schools and hospitals and raise taxes, prompted a rebellion among dozens of Conservative MPs who said they would block him.
After the shock result of Thursday’s referendum — a 52 percent vote to leave the European Union — Osborne, 45, remained noticeably quiet, making his first public comments only on Monday in a failed attempt to reassure jittery financial markets.
Writing in The Times newspaper on Tuesday, Osborne said he was not the right person to lead the party because of his support for the “Remain” vote.
“I fought the referendum campaign with everything I’ve got. I believed in the cause and fought hard for it,” wrote the London-born minister.
“While I completely accept the result, I am not the person to provide the unity the party needs.”
Osborne has been finance minister since Cameron was first elected in 2010, overseeing a programme of spending cuts and tax rises intended to eliminate the budget deficit following the global financial crisis.
But he was already widely predicted to miss his target of balancing the books by 2020, and the economic shock caused by the referendum result could make his goal even harder.
Two ratings agencies on Monday (27 June) downgraded Britain’s credit rating, with Standard & Poor’s removing the country’s coveted AAA status.
“The Brexit result could lead to a deterioration of the UK’s economic performance, including its large financial services sector, which is a major contributor to employment,” it said.
A shrewd political operator, Osborne worked closely with Cameron to make the Tories electable after years in opposition and has long been viewed as a potential successor, including by the prime minister himself.
Yet unlike former Labour prime minister Tony Blair and his finance minister, Gordon Brown, who were at odds for years before the latter took over, Osborne and Cameron have worked together closely.
Like Cameron, Osborne enjoyed a privileged upbringing.
His father Peter Osborne, a baronet, founded the successful Osborne and Little fabrics company.
The eldest of four brothers, Osborne attended private school in London before heading to Oxford University, where he studied modern history and was part of the hard-drinking, aristocratic Bullingdon Club.
He worked for the Conservative government and then for the party before being elected lawmaker for Tatton in Cheshire, northwest England, in 2001 — the same year Cameron entered the House of Commons.
Osborne is married to Frances, an author, and they have two children.