London Major Boris Johnson has slammed the "scandalous" decision to suspend the director general of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC). John Longworth expressed support for the UK to leave the EU in a speech, despite the BCC taking a neutral stance on the debate.

Speaking in a personal capacity during the recent BCC annual conference on 3 March, Longworth – who has been a board member of Asda and Tesco – said the best place for the UK to be was in a "reformed EU". But he added: "I have come to the conclusion that the EU is incapable of meaningful reform, at least in the foreseeable future."

The following day Longworth was suspended from the BCC, reportedly for breaching its neutral stance over the referendum. The BCC, which represents the interests of small, medium and large firms in the country, had stated that it would not campaign for either side in the referendum debate, as its membership is split over whether to remain or leave in the EU.

BoJo's suspension conspiracy theory

Now, tensions have escalated between No. 10 and Boris Johnson over what occurred in the time between Longworth's EU speech and his suspension. Johnson, who recently came out in support of the 'Leave' campaign, expressed horror at the reports that Longworth had been expelled from his position over personal comments.

"It is absolutely scandalous that John Longworth has been forced to step aside," Johnson said, according to the Telegraph. The mayor of London added that Longworth had been "crushed by the agents of Project Fear", a term used by 'Leave' advocates who accuse the 'Remain' side of scaremongering about the effects of leaving the EU.

"This is a man who reached the conclusion – after long reflection and a lifetime's experience of business – that it would be better to Vote Leave," Johnson continued. "His verdict reflects the reality that the EU has changed out of all recognition from the Common Market that this country joined. He speaks for the many small and medium-sized businesses – the lifeblood of the economy – who cannot understand why they should comply with more and more regulation, over which this country has no democratic control. The British public deserve to have the facts put before them. They deserve a proper debate."

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No. 10 denial

Meanwhile, No. 10 sources have denied charges of bullying and that the government forcefully removed Longworth from his high-level position. "The idea that we forced the BCC to suspend John Longworth is not true. It is a matter for the BCC. No pressure was put on the BCC to suspend Mr Longworth," said an insider source.

Recently, Conservative grandee Lord Norman Lamont threw his support behind the so-called 'Brexit' campaign. The former Conservative chancellor said that high levels of immigration to the UK were a major contribution factor to his "painful" decision. "Britain has also lost control of its borders. Of course, we need some immigration, skilled and unskilled, but we do not need immigration in the hundreds of thousands. There is no economic case for it," he said.

The referendum, which will give UK voters the chance to decide if the country should remain a member of the EU is set to go ahead on 23 June later this year.