EU Referendum

Osborne says EU referendum 'fight for UK's soul'

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Media captionThe chancellor says EU vote is about combating Nigel Farage's 'divisive' vision

The EU referendum is a "fight for the soul of the country", Chancellor George Osborne has told the BBC.

By staying in the EU, the UK would remain a "21st Century success story", as he warned a vote to leave would be an endorsement of Nigel Farage's "mean and divisive" vision for the country.

There "was a lot to be scared of" if the UK voted to leave, he said, including losing control of the economy.

He said he believed Turkey would not join the EU in his lifetime.

Vote Leave said the government must clarify whether it was prepared to exercise its veto to block Turkey joining.

In the half-hour interview with Andrew Neil, his most forensic cross-examination of the campaign so far, Mr Osborne defended the government's warnings about the economic damage that would be done by a vote to leave on 23 June, saying they added up to "one big fat minus" for British jobs and workers.

To illustrate the point, he brandished a part from an Airbus aeroplane - made by a "real person" in a British factory - which he said illustrated what was at stake.

'Mainstream majority'

Likening a vote to leave as landing on the "big snake" in a game of economic snakes and ladders, he said it was a gamble the UK simply could not afford to take. While the UK could "do OK" outside the EU, OK was "not good enough" for the country.

"If we vote to remain Britain will be better off, safer as a country but if we leave we will lose control of our economy and that means losing control of everything," he said.

"I am a father of two children and I don't want to look around to them in 20 years time and say, you know, Britain used to be a great success, used to be connected to the world, but we took a decision and we retreated from that world. I want Britain to be the great success story of the 21st Century."

Image caption The chancellor was cross-questioned on a range of subjects

During often robust exchanges, he was challenged over the plausibility of the Treasury's forecasts that Brexit would lead to a 6% hit to growth and an 18% fall in house prices, its claims that the value of pensions could be hit, and David Cameron's failure to meet the government's immigration targets.

Accused of scaring the British people about the consequences of Brexit, he replied by saying "there is a lot to be scared of".

Asked to defend the government's claim that migrants who did not have a job now had to leave the country after six months, he said 6,000 people had been removed for "freedom of movement" abuses but did not spell out who they were and what for.

Claiming that UKIP leader Nigel Farage had "taken over" the official Leave campaign with his emphasis on immigration, he hit out at "disgusting things being said about the bodies of migrants being washed up on the shores of Kent, or about women being raped by migrants".

Turkey questions

He urged voters to embrace an alternative vision of a country that was "open, inclusive and shapes the world - not one shaped by the world".

"Let me be clear. This is a battle for the soul of the country. I do not want Nigel Farage's vision of Britain. It is mean, divisive and it is not who we are as a country... I want the mainstream majority of the country to stand up and say we do not want Nigel Farage's vision of the country."

In an apparent stiffening of the UK's position on Turkey's accession to the EU - which David Cameron was in favour of as recently as 2014 - Mr Osborne said the country remained an ally of the UK but there was no realistic prospect of it joining the EU.

"Is it going to be a member of the European Union? No, it's not."

Turkey, he said, had "gone backwards" in terms of its democratic institutions and record on human rights and it was a "million miles away" from the EU. "British government policy is that it should not join the European Union today."

In response, Vote Leave said the government stated as recently as April that it supported the principle of Turkish membership. "The government must now urgently clarify whether its policy on Turkey has changed," a spokesman said. "Is it now promising to veto Turkish membership?"

Earlier on Wednesday, Justice Secretary and Leave campaigner Michael Gove issued a new warning about the risk of allowing visa-free EU travel for Turkish citizens, saying the EU should be protesting at the "erosion of fundamental democratic freedoms" in Turkey.

In other news, the boss of JCB has written to all his employees making the case for leaving the EU, telling them that they were free to vote as they wished but he believed it was not in the UK's interest to "remain in an EU of diminishing economic significance as it moves towards ever closer union".

"I voted to stay in the Common Market in 1975. I did not vote for a political union. I did not expect us to hand over sovereignty to the EU. I certainly did not expect unaccountable leaders in Brussels to govern over us."

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