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The countdown to Thursday’s referendum on the UK’s future in Europe began on Monday with the former Conservative chairman switching sides to back Remain, attacking the “hate and xenophobia” of the Leave camp.
Baroness Warsi, who resigned from the government in 2014 over its position on Gaza, said she changed in reaction to a poster by the UK Independence party last week.
“Lies, xenophobia and the politics of hate. Why it’s time to leave Leave” she tweeted.
The Ukip poster, which depicts a line of hundreds of refugees and migrants arriving in the EU accompanied by the words “Breaking point”, was released last Thursday with the caption “the EU has failed us all”.
Leading Leave campaigner and justice secretary Michael Gove said he “shuddered” when he saw the photo, taken in Slovenia. George Osborne, the Tory chancellor, said it had “echoes” of 1930s’ literature.
Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, defended the image on Monday.
“I didn’t invent the picture. The picture was real. That picture was on the front pages of all our national press last year,” he told the BBC Today programme.
But he conceded it was “unfortunate timing” coming just hours ahead of the killing of Jo Cox, the Labour MP who was a strong pro-European and defender of immigration. Mr Farage said the party “immediately withdrew ” the poster after the “tragic” shooting of the MP on Thursday in her Yorkshire constituency.
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Baroness Warsi also hit out at her Tory colleague Mr Gove, grouping him with other nationalist anti-immigrant politicians, tweeting “BNP, Le Pen, Donald Trump, Geert Wilders, Farage, Gove. I wouldn’t get on a night bus with them, would you?”
She said she was particularly angry with Mr Gove’s “repeat of the lies” about likely Turkish accession to the EU.
In his Today interview, Mr Farage also conceded there was little to choose between the rival economic arguments of the Leave and Remain camps.
“I would accept that economically, it’s about even-stevens. But I do think there is an issue called the quality of life. And if you can‘t get a GP appointment, or your kids can’t get a house or you can’t get your five-year-old into a local primary school these are real issues,” the Ukip leader said.
He was asked if he would continue to campaign for an exit if voters rejected the proposition on Thursday. Mr Farage responded: “We will not be the first country to leave the European Union. The Danes, or the Swedes or the Dutch will beat us to it. Believe me this project is doomed.”
Mr Farage said: “We have a rotten deal with the EU right now.” Questioned about the reimposition of tariffs on trade with the EU, outside the single market, Mr Farage said the current low level of tariffs was “less than the annual currency movement between sterling and euro”.
On migration, he declined to be drawn on how a future government outside the EU would determine migration levels, but said it “would be good” to get net levels back to the postwar figures of 30,000 to 50,000.
“But ultimately this would be for the British parliament to decide. At the moment we have no control and a British passport is a European passport open to 500m people.”