Boris Johnson has been accused of being a “bare-faced liar” after he claimed to have never mentioned Turkey during the EU referendum – even though he did.
In a speech criticising Theresa May’s Brexit deal on Friday, the former foreign secretary insisted he was “not a nationalist”.
But he was challenged after the speech over Vote Leave’s decision to focus on possible Turkish immigrants in 2016.
The campaign, in which Johnson played a leading role, produced campaign posters that claimed 76 million Turks could come to the UK unless it left the EU.
Some of the ads included images of people in Turkey with large red arrows pointing towards the UK.
Johnson said today: “I didn’t say anything about Turkey in the referendum.”
He added: “Since I made no remarks, I can’t disown them.
“I was happy to support Leave and I do and I did. I happen to think that immigration can be a wonderful thing for our country, but as I’ve said time and time again, it’s got to be controlled.”
In June 2016, Johnson and Michael Gove wrote a letter to David Cameron demanding the then-prime minister “guarantee” that the UK would veto Turkey ever joining the EU.
In the letter, Johnson and Gove wrote:
“Despite the rapidly accelerating pace of accession negotiations, IN campaigners maintain that Turkey ‘is not an issue in this referendum and it shouldn’t be. Others assert that the UK has ‘a veto’ on Turkish accession. This claim is obviously artificial, given the government’s commitment to Turkish accession at the earliest possible opportunity. If the government cannot give this guarantee, the public will draw the reasonable conclusion that the only way to avoid having common borders with Turkey is to Vote Leave and take back control on 23 June.”
The same month, Johnson took part in a referendum debate hosted by HuffPost UK and The Daily Telegraph.
Asked about possible Turkish membership of the EU, he suggested British voters should be given a referendum on whether it could join. “They deserve to be consulted on it,” he said.
Johnson added he was happy for Turkey to join the EU, as long as the UK had left. “I am all in favour of Turkey coming in but I want us to come out,” he said.
The Daily Express reported in April, 2016, that Johnson warned against Turkish membership of the EU.
“I am very pro-Turkish but what I certainly can’t imagine is a situation in which 77 million of my fellow Turks and those of Turkish origin can come here without any checks at all. That is mad – that won’t work,” he said.
In an interview on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on June 5, 2016, Johnson said it was “government policy” for Turkey to join the EU.
Boris Johnson: Frankly I don’t mind whether Turkey joins the EU provided the UK leaves the EU. I mean that’s where I am on this on this matter. But look, I’m very pro-Turk and I’m very proud of my Turkish ancestry and my Turkish family.
Andrew Marr: Okay well let’s not talk about back in the day. Let’s talk about two months ago when you said there was no prospect really of Turkey joining the EU, you said it was between zero and 20% or less than that. No prospects, not on the cards at all. And now you’re responsible for this poster that goes up saying Turkey is joining the EU. That is a flat lie.
BJ: It is the government’s policy that Turkey should join the EU.
AM: That’s a different poster, that’s a different poster.
BJ: It’s something that they’ve said is their - they’ve simultaneously said it’s their number one priority.
AM: That’s a very different poster.
BJ: And they’re going to pave the way between Brussels and Ankara and they’re also saying it won’t be achieved till the year 3,000. So they can’t be –
AM: Do you regret that poster? It is hogwash isn’t it? It’s an inverted column of piffle, whatever the phrase is.
BJ: I believe it’s government policy. If that means it’s hogwash then –
Labour MP Ian Murray, a leading supporter of the People’s Vote campaign that wants another referendum on Brexit, said Johnson was a “bare-faced liar”.
“He lied during the referendum campaign about the possibility of Turkey joining the EU, and he’s lying now by trying to pretend he did no such thing. No-one should believe a single word that comes out of his mouth,” he said.
“There are numerous examples of Johnson raising the spectre of Turkish accession to the EU during the referendum campaign, including Vote Leave material that made the ludicrous assertion that 75 million Turks, meaning the entire population of Turkey, would soon be arriving in the UK.
“Boris Johnson cannot wash his hands of the lies he spread during the referendum campaign. You wouldn’t trust him to be your local parish councillor, let alone leader of our great country. He should apologise for his lies and hypocrisy and then observe an overdue and hopefully indefinite period of silence. It’s time for the government and politicians to start being honest with the public.”
Home Secretary Sajid Javid last week condemned Vote Leave’s campaign about Turkey as “completely incorrect”.