Turkey, a country of 76 million people, which borders Syria and Iraq, will be a full member of the European Union by 2020. By 2024, a million Turks will have moved to the United Kingdom. And a few years after that, armed Turkish gangs will be marauding through sleepy British towns and villages.
That was the message the Vote Leave campaign, led by Boris Johnson, pushed relentlessly throughout the referendum on our EU membership.
So you would have thought that, once Boris was promoted to the dizzying heights of Foreign Secretary, he would do everything in his power to dampen speculation that Turkey would become part of Europe.
Not a bit of it. At a press conference in Ankara today, Boris sweetly said that “Britain will remain committed to helping Turkey's path towards accession, helping Turkey in any way possible.” In June, Turkish membership of the EU was the end of the world; in September, it is a cornerstone of British foreign policy.
Even considering Boris’ track record, this is breathtakingly hypocritical and cynical. As my Lib Dem colleague, Open Britain’s Norman Lamb MP said: “Boris is famous for having his cake and eating it, but even by his standards this takes the biscuit.” After all, no responsible Foreign Secretary would back EU accession for Turkey if it meant armed gangs roaming European streets.
In light of Boris’ latest flip flop, we can see that Vote Leave’s claims on Turkey were nothing more than a pack of lies. If Turkey ever joins, which isn’t likely any time soon as they have spent 25 years negotiating one chapter of dozens that have to be completed before accession, it will be when it meets the EU’s stringent entry criteria. Vote Leave’s banging on about Turkey was plain scaremongering. They sold the electorate a terrifying tale of mass immigration that was never even slightly true. But it worked a treat in convincing voters that we had to leave the EU. Donald Trump would have been proud of their dismal, divisive, dog-whistle rhetoric.
Vote Leave Watch, the campaign of which I am a patron, is holding the Leave campaigners to account for their broken promises. In the nearly 100 days since the referendum, there have been almost too many to list. The government has backtracked on spending £350 million a week on the NHS, scrapping VAT on fuel bills and protecting workers’ rights. EU citizens have still not been given the unequivocal right to remain in Britain. The economy is slowing down. And now, it is revealed that Boris never meant a word of what he said during the campaign about Turkey.
The Leave campaign isn’t history. It lives on, both in groups like ‘Leave means Leave’ and ‘Change Britain’, but also in the shape of the senior Leavers who now dominate this government – Boris Johnson, David Davis, Liam Fox and others. For their florid, breath-taking lies and broken promises, they must be held to account.
This blog originally appeared in The Huffington Post