Speaking on Thursday evening the European Commission president said he “should have intervened” in the campaign to point out “bulls***” and falsehoods spread by “Boris Johnson and others”.
“They were saying things, some of them – lying. Telling the people things which have nothing to do with our day by day reality,” he told an audience at a think tank in Brussels.
“David Cameron asked me not to intervene in the referendum campaign because he said the European Commission is even less popular on the islands than on the continent ... That was a major mistake: I should have intervened, because nobody was denying, contesting the lies Boris Johnson and others were spreading around.”
But the commission president denied that it was the EU’s fault that the campaign had been lost, instead pointing the finger at the British press, in which the prime minister once worked as a Brussels correspondent.
“If for 46 years you are told day after day, and you are reading in your papers, that the place of the British is not really in Europe, but that they are there for economic and internal market reasons, and all the rest – it’s nonsense, bulls***, as they are saying in the European parliament – don’t be surprised if voters are asked to give their impression, some of them, a small majority but nevertheless a clear majority, is voting like a majority of the British sovereign people is voting,” he said.
Mr Juncker is not the first EU leader to lambast Leave campaigners in the strongest terms. In March this year Emmanuel Macron said Brexiteers were “anger-mongers backed by fake news” whose “lies and irresponsibility” had thrown Europe into danger.
Nobody was denying, contesting the lies Boris Johnson and others were spreading around
Jean-Claude Juncker, European Commission president
But last week the French president, who had stopped short of naming Mr Johnson in his earlier tirade, claimed he had not been taking about the prime minister, telling journalists at an EU summit: “I never described Boris Johnson” as such.
European Council president Donald Tusk also angered Brexiteers after he said in February that there was a ”special place in hell” for “those who promoted Brexit without even a sketch of a plan” of how to carry it out successfully.
During the same think tank speech, Mr Juncker, who is due to leave office at the end of the month, said: “Brexit could have brought the house down, acted as a catalyst for others, split Europe”. He added: “But it did not. Unity has prevailed. And one should not underestimate how many conversations and encouragements this took me and Michel Barnier. European resilience and strength has shone through.”
He added that Brexit was “a shame” and would not serve the interests of either the UK or EU.
The president’s comments show the strength of feeling about Brexit that still exists on the continent, with the decision bewildering many of Britain’s allies.
Last week the EU struck a new deal with Mr Johnson that would put a customs border down the Irish Sea and give Stormont a unilateral exit clause from arrangements to prevent a hard border. The British government now faces a long slog to get the plan through parliament, with EU ambassadors set to meet on Friday to decide how long an extension might be needed for the UK to ratify the agreement.