Ms Cooper labelled the Brexit campaigners’ conduct “utterly shameful”, claiming that both men had stoked up concerns about the free movement of people from Turkey, despite knowing that it would not be joining the EU in the near future.
Speaking at a Labour In for Britain campaign event, the former party leadership contender said that Cyprus and Greece would veto Turkey’s accession to the EU, adding that the country had not come close to meeting the criteria for joining.
“[Michael Gove and Boris Johnson] know all of those things, they’re not stupid,” she said. “But they are deliberately manipulating the facts, they are deliberately telling lies, in Boris Johnson’s case for his own personal interest, and it is shameful, utterly shameful. I don’t know how they live with themselves.
“It’s Oxford Union style debating, thinking they can just pull anything out, or like a columnist just saying things for the sake of headlines,” she added. “It’s so irresponsible for community cohesion as well as being irresponsible for this debate.”
Vote Leave has warned repeatedly over the potential for 76 million Turkish citizens to gain the right to work in the UK if the country joins the EU. David Cameron has said in the past that he wants to see Turkey in the EU, but has insisted during the referendum campaign that there is no prospect of it happening for decades. Opposition from Greece and Cyprus, and Turkey’s poor human rights record have all arisen as barriers to eventual accession.
Appearing at the event at London’s Shard building alongside the capital’s Labour mayor Sadiq Khan, the chair of the Labour EU campaign Alan Johnson and former deputy leader Harriet Harman, Ms Cooper called on voters to reject “misinformation and lies” from the Leave campaign.
Mr Johnson, meanwhile, rejected suggestions that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had harmed the Remain campaign by offering only lukewarm support for staying in the EU. While conceding that Mr Corbyn had been a staunch Eurosceptic in the past, he said that the leader had been on a “journey” and was now firmly in favour of staying in.
“He’s not the only one who’s changed his mind since 1975,” he said, referring to the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Economic Community, in which Mr Corbyn voted against membership. “There’s a whole legion of people particularly on our side [who have changed their view since then] because Labour was split in 1975 and its united now,” he said.
He dismissed concerns that Labour’s campaign had failed to reach its supporters, following a recent poll which suggested that little more than half of Labour voters know the party backs Remain. He said the party had been forced to “fight to get airtime” because of media interest in disunity within the Tory party.
“I guarantee by the time we get to polling day there won’t be many people, Labour supporters, who don’t know where Labour stands on this,” he said.
Mr Khan, who recently appeared alongside the Prime Minister to campaign for a Remain vote – something Jeremy Corbyn has said he will not do – declined to call for the Labour leader to follow his example, and insisted Mr Corbyn had been “working his socks off” to keep Britain in the EU.
The EU referendum debate has so far been characterised by bias, distortion and exaggeration. So until 23 June we we’re running a series of question and answer features that explain the most important issues in a detailed, dispassionate way to help inform your decision.
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