Five questions we want Boris Johnson to answer in tonight’s EU debate

Johnson's bluster and rhetoric conceals the fact that he hasn't answered the key questions of the campaign


Tonight the BBC hosts the last and biggest debate of the EU referendum campaign, broadcast from Wembley Arena with a live audience of 6,000 people.

The Remain side will be represented by Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, Frances O’ Grady, secretary-general of the TUC, and Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives.

They square up against Labour MP Gisela Stuart, Conservative energy minister Andrea Leadsom and the former mayor of London, Boris Johnson.

Since his dramatic tumble off the fence in February, he has been the Leave’s campaign highest-profile and most effective advocate.

But his bluster and lofty rhetoric of sovereignty conceal the fact that he has consistently failed to address the key issues of this campaign.

Since tonight is the last chance to wring some truth of of the former mayor, here are the five questions we think Johnson should finally be forced to answer.

1. How can you guarantee both access to the single market and lower immigration?

On the two issues that will decide the outcome of this referendum, immigration and the economy, the Brexit camp want us to believe they can simultaneously drive down immigration numbers and retain access to the single market.

Unfortunately for them, those two outcomes are mutually exclusive. A core principle of the European project is that only countries that facilitate free movement can benefit from free trade within the bloc.

So which is it? Is Johnson suggesting that we ‘take back control’ of immigration and suffer the economic consequences?

Or is his campaign hiding the fact that they don’t actually intend to slash immigration numbers?

2. Are you committed to ensuring that British workers do not lose rights or protections post-Brexit?

The EU has historically strengthened workers rights in Britain. In collaboration with European allies, trade unionists and left-wing parties have secured workers’ rights legislation at EU level, and forced Tory governments to enhance protections.

EU legislation underpins maternity and paternity pay and leave, paid holiday leave, equal pay for women and minorities, and equal treatment for full, part-time and agency workers.

While it’s unlikely that all these rights would immediately be revoked, many believe that when Brexiters promise to cut red tape, what they’re actually talking about is stripping back workers’ rights.

That’s why trade unions representing more than six million UK workers are backing Remain.

And it’s why we want to know if Johnson will promise that the entitlements of British workers would not be undermined by the post-Brexit Tory government he aspires to lead?

3. How are you going to honour for all your spending commitments? 

Among its many distortions and misrepresentations, the Leave campaign’s favourite lie is that Britain pays £350 million a week to the European Union. The real figure is closer to £250 million.

However, considering that Vote Leave claims that savings from leaving the EU could be used to fund the NHS, build thousands of houses, open hundreds of schools, subsidise UK farmers and much more, even the inflated figure is nowhere close to adequate.

In fact, Britain Stronger In Europe has costed the Leave campaign’s promises, and found that they have made £111bn in spending commitments, which is over ten times the amount they say Britain would save by leaving the EU.

So, how is Johnson going to honour all these spending commitments? And if he can’t, which ones are going to be dropped?

4. What are you going to do about the Irish border?

Vote Leave campaigners have either glossed over or completely ignored the question of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland which, if we vote to Leave, would become the only land border between the EU and UK.

To ‘take back control’ of immigration, the UK would have to create a hard border of some kind, undermining the Northern Irish economy and, many fear, the peace process.

Can Johnson clarify? Would he force Northern Ireland to bear the economic, social and emotional costs of a hard border? Or is this another example of his campaign making false promises about taking back control?

5. If you did believe the predictions that Britain would suffer a recession post-Brexit, would you still support leaving the EU?

The Bank of England, the IMF, and a series of independent experts (most recently George Soros) have warned that leaving the EU would put Britain at severe risk of recession.

Today, Johnson has promised that if Britain does fall into recession after Brexit, he will apologise on live TV.

It’s the kind of fanfare he’s famous for, but such an apology would provide little comfort to people across the country suffering unemployment, hardship and poverty.

The entire Vote Leave argument is predicated on their rejection of the overwhelming economic consensus.

But if he imagines, just for a moment, that the vast majority of economic forecasts are accurate, would Johnson argue that Brexit is worth the economic disaster that would follow?

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