Why the UK would be better off in Europe (by Brexiteer Boris Johnson)

‘Think of the desire of your children and your grandchildren to live and work in other European countries’

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


Here is Boris Johnson’s previously unpublished pro-Remain article for the Telegraph that appears in the Sunday Times. The piece is revealed in a new book, All Out War, by the newspaper’s political editor, Tim Shipman. The article was written a number of days before Johnson declared that he was supporting a British exit from the European Union.


OK OK, I admit it. If you gave him a truth drug, or hypnotised him, I don’t think even the prime minister would really deny it.

This European Union deal is not perhaps everything that we would have liked. It is not what we Eurosceptics were hoping, not when the process kicked off. We were hoping he was going to get really deep down and dirty, in the way that the Bloomberg speech seemed to indicate. He was going to probe the belly of the beast and bring back British sovereignty, like Hercules bringing Eurydice (sic) back from the underworld. I had the impression that this was going to be the beginning of a wholesale repatriation of powers — over fisheries, farming, the social chapter, border controls, you name it: all those political hostages joyfully returning home like the end of Raid on Entebbe.

It was going to be a moment for the ringing of church bells and bonfires on beacons, and union flags flying from every steeple, and peasants blind drunk on non-EU approved scrumpy and beating the hedgerows with staves while singing patriotic songs about Dave the hero.

I don’t think we can pretend that this is how things have turned out. This is not a fundamental reform of Britain’s position in the EU, and no-one could credibly claim it is.

It is not pointless; it is not wholly insignificant; it is by no means a waste of time. But it will not stop the great machine of EU integration, and it will not stop the production of ever more EU laws — at least some of which will have deleterious effects on the economy of this country and the rest of Europe.

Never mind the Tusk deal; look at the elephant in the room: the great beast still trampling happily on British parliamentary sovereignty, and British democracy. So there are likely to be a significant number of people — perhaps including you — who will feel that in all honour we can now only do one thing.

We said we wanted a reformed EU. We said that if we failed to get reform, then Britain could have a great future outside. We have not got a reformed EU — so: nothing for it, then — ho for the open seas! Viva Brexit! That would seem to be the logic, and yet I wonder if it is wholly correct.

Shut your eyes. Hold your breath. Think of Britain. Think of the rest of the EU. Think of the future. Think of the desire of your children and your grandchildren to live and work in other European countries; to sell things there, to make friends and perhaps to find partners there.

Ask yourself: despite all the defects and disappointments of this exercise — do you really, truly, definitely want Britain to pull out of the EU ? Now? This is a big thing to do, and there is certainly a strong political-philosophical imperative leading us to the door.

We are being outvoted ever more frequently. The ratchet of integration clicks remorselessly forward. More and more questions are now justiciable by the European Court of Justice, including that extraordinary document, the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. This bestows on every one of our 500m EU citizens a legally enforceable right to do all sorts of things across all 28 states: to start a business, to choose any occupation they like, to found any type of religious school, to enjoy “academic freedom”. I shudder to think what is going to happen when UK citizens start vindicating these new “rights” in Luxembourg.

There is going to be more and more of this stuff ; and I can see why people might just think, to hell with it. I want out. I want to take back control of our democracy and our country.

If you feel that, I perfectly understand — because half the time I have been feeling that myself. And then the other half of the time, I have been thinking: hmmm. I like the sound of freedom; I like the sound of restoring democracy. But what are the downsides — and here we must be honest.

There are some big questions that the “out” side need to answer. Almost everyone expects there to be some sort of economic shock as a result of a Brexit. How big would it be? I am sure that the doomsters are exaggerating the fallout — but are they completely wrong? And how can we know?

And then there is the worry about Scotland, and the possibility that an English-only “leave” vote could lead to the break-up of the union. 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.

And then there is the whole geostrategic anxiety. Britain is a great nation, a global force for good. It is surely a boon for the world and for Europe that she should be intimately engaged in the EU. 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? Shouldn’t our policy be like our policy on cake — pro having it and pro eating it? Pro Europe and pro the rest of the world?

If sovereignty is the problem — and it certainly is — then maybe it is worth looking again at the prime minister’s deal, because there is a case for saying it is not quite as contemptible as all that. He is the first prime minister to get us out of ever closer union, which is potentially very important with the European Court of Justice and how it interprets EU law. He has some good stuff on competition, and repealing legislation, and on protecting Britain from further integration of the euro group.

Now if this were baked into a real EU treaty, it would be very powerful. Taken together with the sovereignty clauses — which are not wholly platitudinous — you can see the outlines of a new role for Britain: friendly, involved, but not part of the federalist project.

Yes, folks, the deal’s a bit of a dud, but it contains the germ of something really good. I am going to muffle my disappointment and back the prime minister.

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