Coming home the other day over a flyover on the A3, I saw a poster from Vote Leave, the official campaign for Britain to leave the EU, which proclaimed “Turkey (population 76 million) is joining the EU”. Below that was a picture of a British passport with a blank red page, with footprints leading to it. I found this poster appalling, not only because it appeals to fear of foreigners who are assumed all to intend to come here, but also because it simply is not true. It’s astonishing that a Tory MP has complained to the 1922 Committee accusing Cameron of “lying profoundly” by saying that Turkey is not joining, when it is they who are lying by claiming that it is happening, when there is no imminent prospect of it happening.
The two premises of this poster are both false. It is inconceivable that Turkey will be invited to join the EU when it shares borders with two countries where there is a civil war and which produce the world’s current biggest outflow of refugees, much of it into Turkey. If it does, it will not be on the basis of joining any free travel area while the situation in Syria and Iraq remains as it is. Turkey currently does not even have visa-free travel to the UK or the rest of the EU (British tourists need visas to visit Turkey), which cannot happen unless 72 benchmarks are met; it has to enforce EU rules on all of 35 policy areas and Turkey currently only enforces one (on science and research). There is massive opposition in the rest of Europe to Turkey joining, and any single member can veto it, including Britain. Finally, support for joining the EU has fallen in Turkey in recent years anyway, and having to remain a functioning democracy to maintain EU membership would be rather inconvenient for a lot of its politicians.
There is also no guarantee that most Turkish emigrants to the EU would come to the UK, as the poster suggests. Although there is a large Turkish community here (about 500,000), the majority of it (around 300,000) originates from Cyprus, a former British colony, not the mainland; there are 1.55 million Turkish citizens in Germany and 2.71 million with at least one parent born in Turkey, so there are no prizes for guessing which EU country mainland Turkish migrants are more likely to go to; migrants tend to go where they already have family connections and an established community rather than take a chance on a completely strange country. And it’s even possible that there might not be an outflow of workers because there are jobs in Turkey for them to do. So, this bit of racist scaremongering is also an exaggeration if not an outright lie.
If the Brexiters had robust reasons for wanting to pull out of the EU, rather than Little Englander gripes about ‘sovereignty’ and ‘benefit tourism’, they would be putting them rather than telling obvious lies. We hear all the time that Britain does not “control its own laws”, when if this were the case, we would not be able to hold this referendum, or that we do not “control our own borders” when Britain and Ireland are in fact the only EU countries that still have border controls. It’s ironic that Priti Patel accuses pro-EU Tories (or others, I’m not entirely sure what she means) of being too rich to feel the burden of EU membership on public services. The fact is that if we left the EU, we would still be subject to EU laws in order to be able to trade freely with Europe, as is the case with Norway; any other arrangement would mean we were isolated, subjected to tariffs and restricted in where we could work or travel. That wouldn’t bother the very wealthy; it would be ordinary people trapped in an impoverished offshore island that suffered.
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