Brexit: Did Boris Johnson talk Turkey during referendum campaign?

By Chris Morris
Reality Check correspondent, BBC News

  • Published
Boris Johnson: "actually i didn't say anything about Turkey during the referendum. Since I made no remarks...I can't disown them."

The claim: Boris Johnson told a Channel 4 News reporter that he "didn't say anything about Turkey during the referendum. Since I made no remarks…I can't disown them".

Reality Check verdict: Boris Johnson talked about the issue of Turkey joining the EU several times in the lead-up to 23 June 2016 and was co-signatory of a letter to the prime minister warning about Turkish membership a week before the vote.

The former foreign secretary Boris Johnson has been criticised, after denying that he had ever said anything about possible Turkish membership of the EU during the referendum campaign in 2016.

Taking questions after a speech on Brexit at the JCB factory in Staffordshire, Mr Johnson said: "Since I made no remarks, I can't disown them."

He was responding to a reporter (from Channel 4 News) who accused him, along with Vote Leave, of suggesting that 80 million Turks would come to the UK if it stayed in the EU.

In fact Mr Johnson did talk about Turkey on several occasions during the referendum campaign, often pointing out - correctly - that it was official government policy for Turkey to join the EU.

A week before the Brexit vote he was also the co-signatory of a letter to the prime minister, which spoke of the "rapidly accelerating pace" of Turkey's accession negotiations.

The letter said it was the policy of the EU for Turkey to join, and that if the UK government could not guarantee it would block this, "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".

Turkey's long-standing application for EU membership has actually been stuck in the slow lane for years, and it is no nearer joining the EU now than it was a decade ago.

Mr Johnson, whose great-grandfather was Turkish, was a leading member of the Vote Leave campaign, which produced a poster with the slogan: "Turkey, population 76 million, is joining the EU. Vote Leave - Take Back Control."

It was the suggestion that Turkish accession could be imminent, and that millions of Turks could soon travel to the UK, which caused controversy.

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Asked at the time about the poster, on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, Mr Johnson said, "Frankly I don't mind whether Turkey joins the EU, provided the UK leaves the EU."

But, he said: "It is the government's policy that Turkey should join the EU."

And on the Great Debate programme on Channel 4, where politicians went head-to-head on the subject of leaving the EU, he said: "Last time I looked, the government wants to accelerate Turkish membership.

"I think it's perfectly reasonable to ask people whether they would rather proceed on the basis of government promises of immigration or whether they would rather take back control and implement (a) points-based system."

After the denial by the former foreign secretary, the Labour MP Chuka Umunna said it was "yet another lie" over which Mr Johnson had been "caught out".

Mr Johnson's spokesman declined to comment.