Boris Johnson has been urged to make a fully apology for "scapegoating migrants" after he claimed European citizens had been able to “treat the UK as if it’s part of their own country” for too long.
On the eve of the general election, 29 migrants' rights groups wrote to the prime minister over his suggestion that EU migrants who have made this country their home had overstayed their welcome.
Mr Johnson sparked the outcry as he vowed to reduce immigration using points-based visa system in an interview with Sky News' Sophy Ridge on Sunday.
He said that “over the last couple of decades or more... we’ve seen quite a large numbers of people coming in from the whole of the EU […] able to treat the UK basically as though it’s part of their own country.
“And the problem with that is that there’s basically been no control at all. And I don’t think that is democratically accountable.”
Campaigners expressed disappointment that the tone of the prime minister's campaign "has moved onto scapegoating migrants living in the UK" and said he had "vilified them for making the UK their home".
The open letter, coordinated by the3million group of EU citizens and the Migrant Rights Network, said: "We are, unfortunately, all too familiar with the rise in hate crimes since the EU referendum because of the negative rhetoric on immigration.
"Therefore, in an era of polarisation, we would like you to realise the weight your words have — words and language matter.
"They matter significantly when uttered by politicians but even more so when the current prime minister brazenly says them on a world stage.
"All politicians should be building a UK where everyone feels safe and respected, not being sacrificed for political gain.
"EU citizens and migrants are interwoven in the fabric of our society, and they will continue to be so regardless of the outcome of this election and post-Brexit. We are therefore seeking an apology for your comments and urge you not to scapegoat EU citizens and migrants now, or in the future."
More than 9,600 people have signed a petition calling for the prime minister to make a full apology for his remarks as the general election campaign enters the final straight.
The prime minister insisted he was "fighting for every vote" on the campaign trail on Wednesday, telling reporters: "This could not be more critical, it could not be tighter - I just say to everybody the risk is very real that we could tomorrow be going into another hung parliament."
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