A former Conservative chairman has switched her support from ‘Leave’ to ‘Remain’ in the EU referendum debate, complaining that moderate voices in the Brexit campaign have been drowned out by ‘lies and xenophobic campaigning’.
Baroness Warsi said her decision to change sides was sparked by an ‘indefensible’ poster released by Ukip leader Nigel Farage showing a long queue of Slovenian migrants as well as ‘lies’ from Michael Gove over the prospect of Turkey joining the EU.
Speaking on BBC radio, Lady Warsi addressed criticism that she had never been part of the Leave campaign.
She said: “I was making the case to leave long before Vote Leave had been established.”
Lady Warsi added said she had a discussion with senior Leave campaigners in which she set out her ‘optimistic’ vision for Britain, which ‘trades freely, open to the brightest and best and rooted in its humanitarian instinct’.
She continued: “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.”
For Lady Warsi, the whole EU referendum has been a ‘difficult personal journey’.
“When I look at the people who are now saying the things they are saying and the people who are supporting that approach, the BNP, Donald Trump, Marine le Pen, Austria’s Freedom Party – every day it feels like the far right is coming out to stand by Leave.”
Leading Leave campaigner Boris Johnson issued an appeal for voters to ‘change history’ in the 23rd June vote.
Lady Warsi said: “The vision that me and other Brexiters who have been involved right from the outset, who had a positive outward-looking vision of what a Brexit vote might mean, unfortunately those voices have now been stifled.”
Lady Warsi said she had argued for a ‘Hello World’ approach to the Leave campaign, stressing ‘an optimistic vision of where Britain stands in the world, how it trades freely and is open to the brightest and best from around the world and is rooted in its humanitarian instinct’.
The tone of the arguments had become increasingly acerbic until the atmosphere changed last Thursday after the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox- a passionate Remain campaigner.
The House of Commons, which was not supposed to be sitting this week, was recalled on Monday for lawmakers from across the political spectrum to pay tribute to Cox, the first MP to be murdered since 1990.
After a three-day pause following Cox’s murder, campaigning for the EU referendum resumed.
Three opinion polls showed ‘Remain’ recovering some momentum in the wake of her death, but the overall picture remained one of an evenly split electorate.
Betting odds at Betfair have stated the probability of a ‘Remain’ vote rose to 72 per cent on Monday, up from a range between 60 and 67 per cent on Friday.