The pro-EU camp may well say ‘It’s not cricket’, but the Brexit camp got a boost when cricket legend Ian Botham came out to bat in favour of Britain leaving the European Union in the June 23 referendum, days before US President Barack Obama is due to wade into the campaign.
“It is time to reclaim our basic sovereignty, the power to decide for ourselves,” Botham wrote in The Sunday Times. “This proud trading nation must take back control from the bureaucrats in Brussels and make our way in the world once again, with confidence. That is why I am going to vote ‘leave’”.
Britain should be trading with ‘natural friends’ like India, he wrote. “In my cricketing career, I played alongside teammates and against opposition from all over the world — from India, Australia, the Caribbean. Countries like these are our natural friends. It is insane that because we are in the EU we do not have the freedom to reach our own agreements to trade freely with these places or with emerging powers such as China,” he said.
Cricket lovers of a certain generation such as London mayor Boris Johnson still remember his exploits in the 1981 Headingley Test that set the stage for what is called England’s greatest Ashes win.
“The spirit of Botham at Headingley in 1981 is the spirit that this country needs. It’s that self-belief, that willingness to dare to do something when everyone is saying you are doomed. That’s what this campaign is all about,” Johnson said.
It remains to be seen if Botham’s endorsement carries influence in an age when football is more popular and the current England cricket team is not exactly popular with young voters, who may not be aware of his iconic status that got him a knighthood.
Johnson, who is emerging as the star campaigner for the Brexit camp, has also been describing Obama as something of a hypocrite for coming to London next Thursday and planning to lecture to Britons to remain in the European Union.
“It’s absolutely hypocritical of the Americans to exhort the UK to subject itself to further losses of control of its politics when America would never dream in a million years of surrendering sovereignty,” he said.
“Why on earth are we being told by Barack Obama that we have to submit to a federal Europe? The Americans don’t accept any foreign jurisdiction over any aspect of American life and quite rightly,” the mayor said.