Channel 4 News’ then political editor Michael Crick put to Johnson that in 2016 he had been the figurehead of a campaign which exploited fears about immigration from Turkey. Johnson replied: “I didn’t say anything about Turkey in the referendum campaign. I didn’t say a thing about Turkey.” Pressed again, he added: “I didn’t make any remarks about Turkey, mate.”
A week before the referendum in June 2016, Johnson wrote in a joint letter with his Vote Leave colleagues Michael Gove and Gisela Stuart: “The only way to avoid having common borders with Turkey is to Vote Leave.” He wrote that it was Brussels policy for Turkey to join the EU, and that the UK government had a “commitment to Turkish accession at the earliest possible opportunity.” In a debate on Channel 4 in the lead up to the referendum, Johnson said: “Last time I looked, the government wants to accelerate Turkish membership.”
At the time Turkey was one of several countries negotiating for EU membership. But it had only fulfilled one of 35 prerequisites necessary for membership and was a long way from fulfilling the others. Many observers estimated it would take at least a decade before its membership became a realistic prospect. And the UK, like every other EU member, would always be able to veto Turkey’s accession.
Johnson’s claim that he had not made remarks about Turkey was a lie.