Boris Johnson endures ‘heartache’ making Brexit choice

Tory heavyweight praises Cameron’s deal efforts, but says concessions insufficient

London Mayor Boris Johnson says he would back Britain's exit from the European Union. Video: Reuters

 

The campaign to take Britain out of the European Union received a major boost yesterday with the decision of London mayor Boris Johnson to campaign for a ‘leave’ vote in June’s referendum.

Mr Johnson, who is one of the most popular and high-profile figures in the Conservative Party, said he had gone through “a huge amount of heartache” in making his choice.

“I would like to see a new relationship based more on trade, on co-operation, with much less of this supranational element. So that is where I’m coming from and that is why I have decided, after a huge amount of heartache – because the last thing I wanted was to go against David Cameron or the government – I don’t think there is anything else I can do,” he said.

“I will be advocating Vote Leave – or whatever the team is called, I understand there are a lot of them – because I want a better deal for the people of this country, to save them money and to take control. That is really what this is all about.”

Restrained response

Earlier, Mr Cameron had made a final plea to the London mayor to avoid “linking arms” with Nigel Farage and George Galloway by joining the Leave campaign but a Downing Street spokesman gave a restrained response to Mr Johnson’s statement.

“Our message to everyone is we want Britain to have the best of both worlds: all the advantages of the jobs and investment that come with being in the EU, without the downsides of being in the euro and open borders,” he said.

The prime minister will make a statement on the referendum and his EU renegotiation deal to the House of Commons today with dozens of his own MPs preparing to campaign on the opposite side to him. Six cabinet ministers have announced that they will campaign for a Brexit, including justice secretary Michael Gove and Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers.

Mr Gove’s decision is a blow to the prime minister, who had hoped to persuade him, as a Conservative intellectual heavyweight, to join the Remain campaign.

Mr Johnson’s decision brings serious star power to the Leave campaign but he indicated yesterday that he does not wish to lead it, adding that he would not be taking part in “loads of bloomin’ TV debates against other members of my party”.