The arguments for and against Britain’s continued membership of the EU are - sadly yet predictably - becoming louder and more strident as referendum day approaches. And in the heat of debate, it was only a matter of time before someone pulled a whopper so bad that the ensuing blaze would demand swift access to the nearest fire extinguisher. For Portsmouth North’s Tory MP Penny Mordaunt, that moment came this morning.
Penny Mordaunt ((c) Guardian)
Ms Mordaunt is campaigning for Britain to leave the EU, and in this capacity appeared before the host’s inquisition on The Andy Marr Show (tm), where she was questioned over suggestions that a million Turkish citizens would come to the UK over the next eight years. Turkey was not an EU member state, argued Marr, and so the concept of free movement of people did not arise. So where did Ms Mordaunt get her figure from?
Marr was informed, with a straight face, that Turkey would become an EU member state very soon, that there were several other countries queuing up to become EU member states, and that this explained her figures. But, Marr suggested, Britain had a veto on Turkey, and indeed any other country, becoming an EU member state.
Marr was right: as Sky News political editor Faisal Islam has pointed out, Article 49 of the EU treaty states “The applicant state shall address its application to the Council, which shall act unanimously”. This means any country applying to become a member state has to receive approval for its application from all existing member states (which, in Turkey’s case, is not made easier as two of those are Greece and Cyprus).
So what did Ms Mordaunt have to say to that? The exchange went as follows:
Penny Mordaunt: They [Turkey] are going to join, it’s a matter of when.
Marr: Except the British Government does have a veto on Turkey joining, so we don’t have to let them join.
Penny Mordaunt: No it doesn’t. We’re not going to be able to have a say. The British People aren’t going to be …
Marr: I thought accession was something each country could veto if it wanted to.
Penny Mordaunt: No. I do not think that the EU is going to keep Turkey out. I think It is going to join.
That is not just a “mis-speak”, a slip of the tongue, or a misunderstanding of any kind. It’s a flat-out pants on fire moment. The idea that a Member of Parliament, and one who has been put up to speak for the Leave campaign, does not know such a basic fact is unimaginable. Penny Mordaunt was so desperate that she lied, live on air.
It was therefore no surprise that when Young Dave was asked to pass comment on her assertion later by Robert Peston on ITV, that he effectively put the boot in on Ms Mordaunt, albeit in an answer crafted rather more diplomatically. What made it even worse was that Andrew Marr gave her a chance to modify her stance later in the interview, but she declined that offer. This morning has not been a good one for the Outers.
And there are more than 30 days of this to go. Not looking good for the Brexiteers.