Boris Johnson was accused of lying today after he denied saying that 80 million Turks could flood into Britain during the Brexit referendum campaign.
He was quizzed about controversial adverts run by the Vote Leave campaign he fronted warning the UK could end up with open borders with Turkey if it stayed in the EU.
Taking questions after a Brexit speech at a JCB factory in Staffordshire today, Mr Johnson denied making any claims about turkey in the referendum campaign.
He said: ‘I didn’t say anything about Turkey in the referendum…Since I made no remarks, I can’t disown them.’
He said he had always made clear that immigration ‘can be a wonderful thing’, so long as it is ‘controlled’.
But a search of the internet revealed that he had warned of the risk of sky-high immigration from Turkey if the UK stayed in the Brussels bloc.
Boris Johnson (pictured in Staffordshire today) was accused of lying today after he denied saying that 80 million Turks could flood into Britain during the Brexit referendum campaign
In an interview with The Sunday Times in April 2016: ‘I am very pro-Turkish but what I certainly can’t imagine is a situation in which 77 million of my fellow Turks and those of Turkish origin can come here without any checks at all.
‘That is mad – that won’t work.’
In a joint letter to David Cameron, Mr Johnson and Michael Gove demanded he rule out Turkey ever joining the EU.
The letter said: ‘It is Government policy that Turkey should join the European Union and ”to pave the road from Ankara to Brussels”.
‘It is Government policy that the United Kingdom is the ”strongest possible advocate of Turkish accession” and that Turkish accession will make the UK ”more secure” and ”richer”, the same argument the Government makes for why the UK must remain in the European Union.’
Boris Johnson’s pitch to Britain: the key quotes
And if we spend the next few weeks hydraulically straining to move MPs from one camp to the other pointlessly trying to get Corbyn to parley at Number Ten we will be wasting our time.
Because this deal – the Prime Minister’s deal – was thrown out by a record 230 votes, the largest majority in parliamentary history.
And that was for the very good reason that it does not correspond to the result of the 2016 referendum.
We need to stop battling each other and focus our efforts on Brussels.
We need to escape the trap of the Irish backstop and it is frankly more than disappointing that in the five weeks since the deal was whisked off the table, before parliament could vote it down, we have not even tried to get rid of it.
We have not even asked.
The only way to extend or revoke article 50 is with the approval of the EU and at the initiative of the UK government.
And it would be shameful at this late stage to change that totemic date – the one fact to which the public has been able to cling with absolute certainty.
I don’t want to pretend there will be no challenges and no changes to cope with. Of course there will be.
But I say to all those who believe in the democratic freedoms of this country re are more than up to it.
We have got so far, we are almost there, let us not give up now.
If we get it right now – and have some courage – we can forestall the years of wrangling and uncertainty that I am afraid will be the legacy of this deal.
And we can stop talking about the process of Brexit.
And start talking about what Brexit can deliver for the people of this country.
And we can use Brexit to bring this country together.
Demanding a veto on Turkey ever joining, the letter added: ‘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.’
Labour MP Virendra Sharma, a supporter of the anti-Brexit Best for Britain campaign, told MailOnline: ‘Boris Johnson is a liar.
‘He shamelessly pushed anti-Turkish messages as a leader of the Vote Leave campaign.
‘It’s time to stop giving his ill-thought through ideas oxygen, and hand the Brexit decision back to the public through a people’s vote.’
Vote Leave produced adverts posted widely on social media which stated that ‘Turkey (population 76 million) is joining the EU’ and ‘Britain’s new border is with Syria and Iraq’.
Some included images of people in Turkey with large red arrows pointing towards the UK.
The row came as Mr Johnson launched a fresh scathing attack on Theresa May over Brexit.
He slammed the PM for not even trying to remove the Irish border backstop in talks with the EU – as he made a thinly-veiled pitch for the Tory leadership.
The former foreign secretary said the PM should have made the demand after her Brexit deal suffered a humiliating Commons defeat on Tuesday night.
He said Mrs May should make a ‘final offer’ to the EU of a deal that strips out the border plan and withholds half the £39billion divorce bill until a trade deal is done.
Mr Johnson said he would be ‘utterly amazed’ if Brussels said no but insisted Britain would flourish even if it had to leave without a deal on March 29 – promising there would still be ‘Mars bars’ and other imports from Europe whatever happened.
Mr Johnson insisted delaying exit day would further ‘erode trust’ in politics and fuel suspicion of an ‘elite conspiracy to thwart Brexit’.
In his speech, Mr Johnson said Britain could keep the ‘best parts’ of the current deal – including deals on citizens’ rights – but strip out what it didn’t like.
He said: ‘I believe that there is a very good chance, indeed overwhelmingly likely, that we will leave with a deal – we just won’t leave with this deal.’
The new developments come as it emerged five Tory ministers warned Theresa May yesterday they would resign if she did not offer a free vote on a Plan B Brexit
He added: ‘If we mean it, if we are determined, and if we make it clear that this is our best and final offer, I would be utterly amazed if we cannot get agreement on these terms.’
Insisting Britain would succeed under no deal, he said: ‘I don’t want to pretend there will be no challenges and no changes to cope with.
‘Of course there will be. But I say to all those who believe in the democratic freedoms of this country
‘We are more than up to it. We have got so far, we are almost there, let us not give up
Mr Johnson is seen by many as a front runner for the Tory crown – but is also loathed by many Tory MPs who dismissed his pitch for unity today.
His former deputy at the Foreign Office Sir Alan Duncan blasted: ‘You are not equipped to unite the Party you have so recklessly divided.’