Dominic Cummings bumbles question on Turkey's EU membership

Dominic Cummings grilled over Vote Leave 'scaremongering' on Turkey EU membership
3 min read
22 July, 2021
Dominic Cummings' response to journalist Laura Kuenssberg's question about the Leave campaign's 2016 claims that Turkey was set to join the EU is causing a stir online.
Dominic Cummings acted as director of the Vote Leave campaign [Getty]

Dominic Cummings, a former key advisor to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, was grilled on Tuesday by the BBC about misleading claims made by the Leave campaign, which he managed, during the Brexit referendum that Turkey was poised to join the EU.

BBC journalist Laura Kuenssberg questioned Cummings on a cornerstone policy of the Leave campaign that incorrectly suggested Turkey would join the European Union in 2016.

This prediction failed to materialise but is believed to have influenced enough voters to back the Leave campaign, which won a narrow victory in the referendum about the UK's continued membership in the EU.

"One of the other [issues] you tried to grab the agenda was the possibility that Turkey was going to join the EU," Kuenssberg told Cummings.

"It was the case that Turkey wanted to join the EU, it was the case that many countries in the EU wanted Turkey to join one day, but it was not the case that Turkey was anywhere near joining the EU and yet you made it one of the main issues in the campaign.

"And you even linked that distortion of reality, to the possibility of making it easier for terrorists to come to the UK," she said.

Cummings responded: "The reason why the Turkey issue annoyed the Remain campaign so much was because… Turkey was in the process of joining the EU and had been for many years, so like with £350, they couldn’t just say it was nonsense, it’s not the case," Cummings said, referring to Leave's claim that Britain was sending £350 million ($480.8m) a week to the EU.

"The PM himself had given a speech in which he said, 'I want Turkey to join as soon as possible and I want to pave the road from Ankara to London'."

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Eventually, Cummings fell back on semantics: "We didn't say it’s about to join, we said it was in the process of joining."

His responses was criticised online.

"Oh we, the Turkish media never took that propaganda seriously and watched the whole process in disbelief," said Turkish journalist Selim Atalay.

"Cummings’ tales were a daily contribution to my news show's -Froth of the Day- section. We were also appalled by the guile of feeding false pretenses [sic] to the UK electorate.”

Those in the UK's were equally unimpressed by Cummings' performance.

A poster from 2016 Leave campaign [Getty]
A poster from 2016 Leave campaign [Getty]

"If the bigotry and scaremongering of the Brexiteers was not more evident ahead of the EU referendum, we learned yesterday that Cummings cited Turkey as being on the cusp of joining the EU," wrote Twitter user Robert Mohamed. "Turkey has been trying to join the EU since 1987 without much success. Another Brexit lie!"

Self-professed Remainer and book owner Simon Gosden wrote: “The #cummings interview needs to be watched, the #brexit lies on the £350m and Turkey joining the EU exposed as utterly contemptuous fabrications, and Cummings is smirking as he recounts them."

Others shared a Vote Leave poster used in 2016 implying Turkey was indeed going to join the EU, refuting Cummings' statement denying that the Leave campaign said Turkey was going to join.

In 2016, Vote Leave made several inflated claims about Turkey's membership to the EU, including that doing so would make the UK "less safe". 

It claimed that accession of Turkey, Albania, Montenegro, Serbia and Macedonia would bring 12,726,000 guns into the single market and also made scaremongering statements about high Turkish birth rates and how that could cost the NHS £400 million ($549.7m).

The claims were eventually debunked or corrected by fact checkers.