Europe

Johnson distances self from anti-Turkish Brexit slogan

Former foreign secretary tries to disavow from absurd claim '80 million Turks coming to UK' in led up to Brexit referendum

18.01.2019
Johnson distances self from anti-Turkish Brexit slogan File Photo

By Ahmet Gurhan Kartal

LONDON

Britain’s former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on Friday waffled on a question about how anti-Turkey sentiments were used by those in favor of the Brexit campaign, which he was a frontrunner political figure.

After a speech in Staffordshire, Johnson denied saying “80 million Turks would come to the U.K.” if Turkey joins the EU – a slogan used during the campaign before the EU referendum held in 2016.

Regarding his fluctuating views on immigration since 2013, Johnson was asked if he “would say anything to win an election”.

He replied: “I didn’t say anything about Turkey during the referendum.”

Although he was reminded he was the leader of the Leave campaign, Johnson repeated: “I didn’t make any remarks about Turkey.”

During the referendum campaign, the group campaigning to leave the EU used the anti-Turkish slogan to win the xenophobic votes.

The Leave campaign absurdly argued that if the U.K. remained as a member state and in case of Turkey’s membership to the bloc, “80 million Turks would come to the U.K.” It was a misleading slogan that went unchallenged by any of the campaigning or advertisement watchdogs in the U.K.

Turkey’s EU membership

Johnson, who is the great grandson of Ali Kemal, a politician who briefly was the Ottoman Interior Minister in 1919, has been against Turkey’s membership to the EU, despite a generally supportive state policy by the U.K.

Prior to the referendum, Johnson and another leading figure of the Leave campaign, Michael Gove – who is still a cabinet minister – requested a guarantee from then-Prime Minister David Cameron to veto Turkey’s EU membership.

In a letter sent to Cameron, Johnson and Gove said: "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 U.K. has ‘a veto’ on Turkish accession. This claim is obviously artificial given the Government’s commitment to Turkish accession at the earliest possible opportunity."

They demanded Cameron promise to use the U.K.'s veto and prevent Turkey from joining the EU, as well as blocking possible visa-free travel – a condition of the readmission agreement reached by Turkey and the EU, which is still to be materialized.

"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," according to the letter Johnson co-signed.

During a post-referendum visit to Ankara in his official capacity as foreign secretary to seek a “jumbo” free trade deal with Turkey, Johnson praised Turkey-UK relations.

“This is the land of my fathers, this very ministry is where my relatives used to work,” he described Turkey in a press conference at foreign ministry in Turkish capital.

Brexit: The Uncivil War

A two-hour-long drama, recently aired by Channel 4 laid bare how the anti-Turkish slogan was absurd and misleading.

Brexit: The Uncivil War delves into how the Leave campaign was run and how the slogan arguing that millions of Turkish people would “invade” Britain if the U.K. remained a member came about in an unjustified way.

The slogan directly appealed to right and far-right voters from mainly uneducated Brits and widely used by now-far-right U.K. Independence Party during the campaign.

British voters decided June 23, 2016 to leave the EU after securing 52 percent of the vote.

The U.K. is set to leave the EU March 29.

Turkey has been in full membership accession talks with the EU since 2005.

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