This site reported recently that Downing Street is gripped by a fear that Theresa May will eventually come out for Leave. It has not been seized by the same worry about Boris Johnson – at least to date.
The conventional thinking is that Boris is set on the Conservative leadership, won’t risk putting himself on the losing side of the referendum campaign and will, when the renegotiation (such as it is) is complete, duly come out for Remain. According to this view, the Mayor delights in showing Eurosceptics some leg – even, on occasion, his knickers – but his long romance with them, conducted partly through the medium of his Daily Telegraph column, will never reach consummation. Its punting yesterday of a Danish-type opt-out from free movement rules must thus be seen in this context.
ConservativeHome is not in a position to rubbish this version of events, but would set a gloss against the cynical narrative that makes it up, as follows.
Boris knows his subject. He was raised in the belly of the beast, so to speak, since his father is a former MEP. He has served as a Brussels correspondent, where he got to know the EU’s ways at first hand. And as Mayor, he commissioned and endorsed “a major report which says that it would be better for London if Britain were to leave the European Union than stay if David Cameron fails to negotiate reforms”. The study, put together by Gerard Lyons, a former Chief Economist to Standard Chartered, set out an eight-point for major EU reform, duly championed by Boris a few days after its launch. These were –
- “Stopping EU social and employment law imposing costs on business. Mr Johnson urged: “If that means resurrecting the opt-out for Britain won by John Major it will be no bad thing.”
- Big cuts in the Common Agriculture Policy which subsidises French farmers “so that we don’t continue to waste taxpayers money and discriminate against third world producers”. He expressed horror that tariffs on cane sugar were now threatening 800 jobs at a historic London refinery .
- Ending what he called “the pointless attacks on the City of London which should be recognised as an asset for the whole EU. A report by his adviser Gerard Lyons accused euro-zone states of leading the attacks.
- Controls on migration within the EU, recording how many people enter the UK, and enabling London government to plan for school places and welfare.
- A so-called “yellow card” system called for by the Dutch to empower national parliaments to veto unnecessary EU regulation.
- Abolishing the power of the European Court of Justice to impose decisions on Home and Justice affairs.
- A real focus on completing the single market including opening up financial services to fair competition. ”
This may help to explain why friends of the Mayor have been arguing that Cameron’s negotiation should be far more ambitious. At any rate, it is unlikely to deliver Boris’s first, fourth and sixth objectives at least which, were logic all, would leave him with no option but to back Brexit when the time comes.
More to the point, perhaps, the assumption that the next Tory leader will have backed Remain is questionable. It can be argued that, since the bulk of the voluntary party is apparently for leaving the EU, Cameron’s successor must take that stance too. I am not at all sure that I buy this, but it is possible that the Mayor may come to do so.