Boris Johnson was accused of orchestrating “project hate” and using people’s fear of immigration to pull Britain out of the European Union as two new polls showed the rival campaigns still neck and neck.
In the last televised debate of the EU referendum, the most recognisable Leave figure was accused of telling lies over whether Turkey was likely to join the EU by the London Mayor Sadiq Khan.
Brandishing a leaflet from Leave campaigners showing Turkey on a map, but only naming neighbouring countries Iraq and Syria, the Labour politician said: “That's scaremongering, Boris - you should be ashamed. You are using the ruse of Turkey to scare people to vote to Leave.”
But Mr Johnson hit back saying Britain needed to “take back control” of immigration and this could only be done by leaving the EU and introducing an Australian style ‘points based’ system for all people applying to enter the UK.
The debate came at the end of the penultimate day in which two polls showed the rival campaigns neck and neck.
YouGov had Leave ahead by 51 per cent to 49, while a Survation poll had Remain ahead by just one percentage point.
John Curtice, professor of politics at Stratchclyde University and one of the country’s foremost polling experts, told The Independent: “It’s around 50-50. Undoubtedly last week Leave made progress – the first significant progress of the campaign. It’s very, very tight. You can’t call this referendum – it’s too close.”
The closeness of the polls appeared to force Mr Cameron into making a hurried, impromptu speech outside 10 Downing Street, in which he made a last-ditch appeal to voters to reject Brexit for the “sake of their children”.
The Prime Minister, who knows that a vote for Brexit would spell the end of his leadership, said that it was young people, children and “those yet to be born” who would be hit hardest by the economic fallout of a vote to Leave.
His intervention was followed by an acrimonious, live X Factor-style debate at Wembley Arena in which leading figures from the Remain and Leave camps traded insults and slogans.
In a sometimes clunky show – interspersed by cheers and boos from the 6,000-strong crowd - both camps attempted to play to their core messages as voters make up their minds ahead of Thursday’s referendum.
The Leave panel had a Tory slant – represented by Boris Johnson alongside the Energy and Climate Change minister Andrea Leadsom and one of the few Labour figures backing Brexit; the backbench MP Gisela Stuart.
Perhaps sensing that the result of the referendum may come down to how many Labour supporters back staying in the EU, the Remain side chose just one Tory - the Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson - alongside the Labour Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and the head of the TUC Frances O’Grady.
Both sides traded claims and insults on the economy, immigration and Britain’s place in the world.
Ms Davidson accused fellow Tory Andrea Leadsom of telling a “blatant untruth” about the number of the UK laws that were influenced by the European Union.
She then widened her attack to accuse the Leave camp of trying to lie there way to victory.
“You’re being asked to make a decision on Friday that’s irreversible, you can’t change it, and you’re being sold it on a lie. They lied about the costs of europe they lied about turkey they lied about the european army. They’ve put them in their leaflefts and it’s not good enough. You deserve the truth. You deserve the truth!
On immigration, Mr Khan accused Mr Johnson of running a campaign of hate against migrants.
“Immigration has brought huge economic, cultural and social benefits to our country,“ Mr Khan said.
“Your campaign hasn't been project fear, it's been project hate as far as immigration is concerned.”
Mr Johnson criticised Mr Khan - pointing out the current London mayor had previously said that those concerned about immigration should not be accused of prejudice.
”I think you need a grown-up approach to this, I'm passionately a believer in immigration, but it's got to be controlled,” he said.
“When you've got numbers running at 184,000 net from the EU, 77,000 coming without even the offer of a job last year, it's obviously time to take back control.”
In the final section of the debate on Britain's place in the world, Ms Davidson insisted Britain already has control over many important policy areas.
“We as a country are not in the euro, we as a country are not in Schengen, we as a country have vetoes over things like the expansion of other states joining us,” she said.
“We make the EU work for us - we are in charge of the pound, interest rates, taxes, healthcare, education, spending.
”Europe doesn't tell us what to do, we make those decisions.
But Ms Leadsom said as a minister her hands were tied by EU rules “all day long”.
Addressing Ms Davidson's comments, she said: “That really is an extraordinary claim.”
Ms Davidson could then be heard saying “that is a lie” as Ms Leadsom went on: “The truth is that 60 per cent of our rules and regulations come from the European Union.
“As City Minister and now Energy Minister all day long I'm told you can't do that, you can't do this because of the EU.
“The truth is there are five presidents of the EU, now can anyone name them?” And did anyone vote for them?
“No, you didn't vote for them because you're not allowed to vote for them and you can't kick them out.”
Mr Johnson received loud cheers and a standing ovation from parts of the audience when he declared that this Thursday “could be our country's independence day”.
Summing up the Leave position at the end of the debate, the former mayor of London painted an optimistic vision of a post-Brexit Britain.
He said: “At the end of this campaign I think you'll agree there is a very clear choice between those on their side who speak of nothing but fear of the consequences of leaving the EU, and we on our side who offer hope.”
The debate came as independent economists from three of Britain’s leading institutions issued a final warning that a vote for Brexit would hit wages and lead to higher retail prices and borrowing costs.
In a joint statement, the directors of Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) and the Centre for Economic Performance (CEP) said there had never “in our lifetimes” been such agreement among economists on a major policy issue.
With the outcome of the vote hanging in the balance, Mr Cameron appealed to older voters to think of the next generation when alone in the polling booths on Thursday.
“I want to speak very directly to those of my generation and older,” Mr Cameron said. “I know Europe isn’t perfect. Believe me. I understand and I see those frustrations. I feel them myself. That is why we renegotiated and enhanced our special status, out of the Euro, keeping our borders, not involved in ever-closer union. We have the best of both worlds.
“So as you take this decision, whether to Remain or Leave, do think about the hopes and dreams of your children and your grandchildren. They know their chances to work, to travel, to build the kind of open and successful society they want to live in rests on this outcome.
“Remember, they can’t undo the decision we take. If we vote out, that’s it. it is irreversible. We will leave Europe for good, and the next generation will have to live with the consequences far longer than the rest of us.”
Meanwhile, Mr Johnson pledged to publicly apologise if Britain went into recession in the wake of a vote for Brexit, as the IFS, the NIESR and the CEP issued a joint statement warning that Britain would “almost certainly” be worse off outside the EU.
Challenging Leave campaign claims that Britain’s economy would not suffer from Brexit, they said that “almost all of those who have looked seriously at this issue” were predicting lower real wages in event of Brexit, higher prices for goods and services, higher borrowing costs and higher unemployment.
“In our lifetimes we have never seen such a degree of unanimity among economists on a major policy issue,” the directors of the three institutions said in a joint statement. “The precise effect, in terms of numerical percentage, is of course uncertain. But that we would be financially worse off outside the EU than in is almost certainly true.”
Addressing some of the claims of the rival campaigns, they said that the Leave campaign’s pledge of a £10bn Brexit dividend for public services and tax cuts was “almost certainly untrue”. The claim that the UK would, after Brexit, be able to trade with other EU nations on equally good terms to those we currently have was also deemed almost certainly untrue.
Remain campaign assertions that households could be £4,300 a year worse off by 2030 were deemed to be “uncertain”, while warnings that immediate tax rises would be needed in the event of Brexit were branded “unlikely”, with the economists predicting that the Government would instead allow borrowing to rise to cover the economic costs of leaving the EU in the short-term.
Labour will attempt to rally support on the final day of campaigning today, with leader Jeremy Corbyn and London Mayor Sadiq Khan planning to make a rare joint appearance at a London rally. Alan Johnson, leader of Labour’s Remain campaign, said that a vote for leave would “plunge our country into turmoil and uncertainty”.
Meanwhile, Michael Gove, the Justice Secretary and Vote Leave chairman, said he would “reflect” upon his position in the Cabinet depending on the outcome of Thursday’s vote.
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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