Brexiteers’ inflammatory rhetoric and false claims about migration, Turkey joining the EU, and extremism risk leaving the UK bitter and divided. Vote Leave, the official campaign, seems so desperate to win the vote that it has thrown caution to the wind and aped the political style previously associated with Nigel Farage’s UKIP.
Sayeeda Warsi, formerly the Conservative Party chair, today announced she was switching sides in the referendum because of what she calls the Leave camp’s “lies and xenophobic campaigning”. She told the BBC’s Today Programme: “Day after day what are we hearing? The refugees are coming; the rapists are coming; the Turks are coming, linking the Turks to criminality; the extremists are coming.” [listen from 1:09]
Warsi said this “xenophobic racist campaign…. causes long-term damage to communities.” She added: “It is time for politicians to stand up… and say we should not be part of an environment of hate in this country.”
Warsi is right to raise the alarm. Vote Leave has come up with a series of misleading claims that seem designed to frighten voters about uncontrolled migration. Top of the list is the false assertion that Turkey is scheduled to join the EU in 2020 – though there is zero chance of this happening.
Vote Leave also posted on social media a map suggesting that the EU’s tentative deal to let Turks get visa-free travel for up to 90 days in the Schengen Area meant “Britain’s new border is with Syria and Iraq”. Britain is not in Schengen and so not covered by the deal.
Arabella Arkwright, a Vote Leave board member, was forced to resign today after retweeting material including an image of a white girl in the middle of a group of people wearing burqas saying: “Britain 2050: why didn’t you stop them Grandad?”. A spokesperson for Vote Leave told the Guardian her activity did not “reflect the views of the Vote Leave campaign”, while she said that she didn’t endorse material that she retweeted.
Vote Leave has not been as inflammatory as Farage, who last week unveiled a notorious poster showing a long line of migrants at the border between Croatia and Slovenia with the title “BREAKING POINT” and, under it, the words: “the EU has failed us all”. In reality, the migrants were not actually coming to the UK – while the poster has also been compared to anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda from the 1930s.
Nor did Vote Leave repeat the UKIP boss’s claim that the prospect of mass sex attacks by migrants, like those seen in Cologne, is the “nuclear bomb” of the referendum campaign.
Nevertheless, as Vote Leave has lost the economic argument, it has veered more and more towards language that borders on the xenophobic. This is extremely short-sighted. On June 24, whatever the result, we will need to live together.
This article was updated on June 20 to include the paragraph about Arabella Arkwright. Vote Leave declined to respond to a request for comment.
Edited by Jack Schickler