Pakistani-origin Conservative party leader Sayeeda Warsi switched to the ‘Remain’ camp, accusing those backing for Britain to leave the EU of spreading “lies, hate and xenophobia,” ahead of the Thursday’s referendum.
Warsi, 45, said she realised she could no longer support leaving the European Union (EU) when she saw far-right UK Independence Party’s (UKIP) “breaking point” anti-EU poster.
“It’s not an easy decision – this has been a difficult personal journey… That ‘breaking point’ poster really was, for me, the breaking point to say: ‘I can’t go on supporting this’. Are we prepared to tell lies, to spread hate and xenophobia just to win a campaign? For me, that’s a step too far,” she said.
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The poster, entitled “Breaking Point: The EU has failed us all” and depicting hoards of immigrants lining up to enter the UK, has created a storm on both sides of debate.
The Vote Leave camp said it was not aware Warsi had joined its campaign, while UKIP leader Nigel Farage defended the poster, saying it was “the truth”.
Vote Leave tweeted: “Genuinely puzzled by Sayeeda ‘defection’. We weren’t aware she was ever part of the #VoteLeave campaign.”
“I was making the case to leave long before Vote Leave had been established,” Warsi told BBC.
She added: “Unfortunately what we are seeing as a vision for Britain are lies and xenophobic campaigning. Why is it people like me, who are instinctively Eurosceptic, are feeling they need to leave Leave?. Because day after day, what are we hearing? The refugees are coming, the rapists are coming, the Turks are coming.”
Warsi, a former foreign minister said the image in the poster was “perpetuating a set of lies about who those people are, where they were going, suggesting they were coming to the United Kingdom”.
“This kind of nudge-nudge, wink-wink xenophobic racist campaign may be politically savvy or useful in the short term but it causes long-term damage to communities,” she said.
Farage said on Twitter: “Baroness Warsi ‘defection’ is a typical Number 10 put-up job. She never wanted to leave the EU.”
In reference to his party’s poster, which has received widespread criticism, he said: “That poster reflects the truth of what’s going on. There’s a new poster coming out tomorrow morning.
“I wish an innocent Member of Parliament (Jo Cox) had not been gunned down in the street and frankly, had that not happened, I don’t think we’d have had the kind of row we have had.”