It was Boris Johnson’s support for the Vote Leave camp that helped tip the balance in its favour before the June 23 referendum, but the less known fact before he declared his support to the camp is now out: he was almost equally committed to opposing it.
Johnson made his pro-Brexit views known through television on February 21 and later explained his position in his widely read column in The Daily Telegraph the next day. He had also written a draft column that supported remaining in EU, but that he did not use.
The hitherto unpublished pro-EU column has now been included in a new book on the Brexit vote by the Sunday Times’ political editor, Tim Shipman. It has also been reproduced in the Sunday Times, prompting critics to call it typical of Johnson’s inconsistencies in politics.
In the ‘column’, Johnson writes that Britain’s continued membership of the EU would be a “boon for the world and for Europe”, and adds: “This is a market on our doorstep, ready for further exploitation by British firms. The membership fee seems rather small for all that access. Why are we so determined to turn our back on it?”
He also warned that Brexit would cause an “economic shock” and could lead to the breakup of the United Kingdom.
“There is the worry about Scotland, and the possibility that an English-only ‘leave’ vote could lead to the break-up of the union,” he said.
“There is the Putin factor: we don’t want to do anything to encourage more shirtless swaggering from the Russian leader, not in the Middle East, not anywhere,” he added.
He also criticised the deal secured by former prime minister David Cameron from Brussels earlier this year.
However, sources close to Johnson told journalists he wrote The Daily Telegraph article for the sole purpose of trying to articulate in his mind whether there was any merit in the ‘remain’ argument and dismissed it out of hand as soon as he finished.
Lucy Thomas, former deputy director of the Stronger In campaign, said the unpublished column demonstrated how much of Johnson’s decision to back leaving the EU was about his political career.