Nigel Farage has accused Turkey of “blackmailing” the European Union over the Syrian refugee crisis and its proposed EU membership.
The Ukip leader told the European Parliament it was “outrageous” that the country had been offered concessions on joining the bloc in exchange for doing a deal to accept more refugees and migrants.
Turkey has long sought to join the EU but despite its official candidate status, negotiations have so far been slow.
There was progress yesterday however, after the country agreed to accept the return of migrants and refugees who had been turned back from Greece.
As part of the deal done at a Brussels summit, Turkey was offered visa-free travel to the Schengen free movement area and a “new chapter” in its negotiations – which have been ongoing since 1999 when it was recognised as an official candidate.
David Cameron told MPs in a statement on Wednesday that the EU had “agreed to prepare for a decision on the opening of new chapters in Turkey's EU accession negotiations as soon as possible” at the summit.
Mr Cameron has previously said he supports Turkish accession to the EU, as did the previous Labour government.
Germany has historically been an opponent of accession – but the deal over refugees, of which Germany is taking the lion’s share, could break the deadlock.
Mr Farage said the upcoming EU referendum was now a referendum on whether Britain should be in a political union with Turkey.
“It's outrageous that the EU has allowed itself to be bullied and blackmailed by Turkey in this way,” he told MEPs on Wednesday.
“That the British taxpayer will have to shell out another £500 million is unacceptable.
“Most worrying of all, it is now clear that Turkey will be fast-tracked into membership of the European Union - a position agreed by David Cameron and William Hague.
“Perhaps this referendum on June 23rd will become a referendum on whether we wish to be in a political union with Turkey. A vote for Remain is a vote for Turkey.”
On Monday Turkey’s deputy ambassador to the UK Cem Işik reiterated that joining the EU was a “strategic objective” for the country and said failure to admit it to the bloc had been “short-sighted”.
He denied the charge of blackmail, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Turkey is not blackmailing Europe but it’s disheartening to see that Europe only remembered Turkey after the migrant crisis last summer.”
Millions of refugees and migrants are passing through Turkey, which has opened its southern border with Syria for humanitarian purposes.
Turkey has allowed refugees to transit through its territory to move towards Europe – with president Erdoğan last month threatening to use buses to send more people to the EU.
Sitting on the edge of the Syrian conflict zone, the country home to three million refuges but says aid promised by the EU to help care for them has not yet materialised.
The summit agreement appears to represent a turnaround in the relationship between the two powers, with the EU pledging to step up aid.
The latest call to join comes amid an outcry in Europe over a crackdown on press freedom by the country’s Government which is expected to delay accession even further.
This weekend the European Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn said Turkey was jepordising its future in the EU with the authoritarian policy.
Long-standing roadblocks to Turkey’s accession include refusing to recognise the Republic of Cyprus, which is an EU member state, poor relations with Greece, and the consistent opposition of Germany.
The strong role the army plays in the country’s constitution and the fact most of the country is in Asia has also been subject a subject of concern.
Turkey has a fast growing population of 75 million, making it almost as large as Germany and bigger than Britain or France.
It would be the second largest EU member state and likely shift the balance of power in Europe.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies