In his column for the Telegraph newspaper, the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, urges voters to choose leaving the EU which will allow us to negotiate a better deal. Sounds legit… right?
Europe is an issue we Londoners are close to. Literally. As the crow flies, London is nearer to Calais than it is to our second city, Birmingham, and the financial services sector which thrives in London is more closely aligned with markets in other European cities than it is with the likes of Liverpool or Newcastle.
Our population is more diverse than much of the UK with many well-integrated multi-national communities. It is therefore striking that the Mayor of London, who presides over this amazing city (and let's not forget, is MP for Uxbridge & South Ruislip too), would choose to use his influence to urge an 'out' vote.
There are several parts of Boris' Telegraph article that have been pulled apart by commentators. His assertion that between 15-50% of UK legislation comes from Europe is always a hotly disputed one. Then there were his repeated claims on the EU restricting condom sizes and banning prawn cocktail crisps which were plain hogwash, but presented as fact.
Boris’s current view on the EU is that when they know the great British public are serious about leaving, they’ll throw even more concessions our way to give us an even better special position at the European table.
Furthermore, as David Cameron would have lost the vote, there is a very high chance that he would resign the leadership of the Tory party at some point after.
And then the icing on the cake — for the soon-to-be-former mayor, at least. There are only 160,000 members of the Conservative party, many of whom are Eurosceptic, whose job it is to decide the next leader (and hence prime minister). They would proclaim Boris as the man who freed us from the shackles of European tyranny, teeing him up for the top job, where he can talk the hard talk to get us this better deal.
However, there is one rather large fly in the mayor’s ointment.
David Cameron has said that he will respect the British people’s decision, whether it is to stay or to leave. If the decision is we resign our membership, Cameron will invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty — put in simple terms, the rules around exiting the EU.
Once the negotiations are complete, point 5 of the Article states:
If a State which has withdrawn from the Union asks to re-join, its request shall be subject to the procedure referred to in Article 49.
This means going through the whole rigmarole of entering as a new member of the EU — something that other member states will hardly be inclined to do after having the political equivalent of a gun to their head, let alone give us a special arrangement.
All of this may depend on how long Cameron or his immediate replacement can cling to power in the aftermath of a ‘No’ vote to start the process of negotiations on leaving. As a significant proportion of the Tory party want us out of the EU, they won’t necessarily object to invoking Article 50 as soon as possible. They probably won’t take too kindly, having tasted victory, to being dragged back to the negotiating table once more, then to suffer the ignominy of a further referendum.
So Boris Johnson's premise that we can vote out, and then return to the table, is a shot in the dark at best and unworkable at worst — a risky strategy in terms of the protecting interests of the country. Not to mention London, whose interests he is currently supposed to be representing.
Johnson will not debate directly against Cameron and this is a wise move as far as he is concerned. Boris is probably the most popular politician in the land. People like to laugh at his use of language, mannerism and hair that amazingly is always ruffled just before he appears on-camera. He’s never really been one for detail, however, as colleagues on the London Assembly can testify, and falls apart as soon as seriousness is required.
The mayor has taken a huge political risk with the position he has taken; something his father said was a “well-thought-out" yet "career-ending” move.
Only time will tell if PM Boris was right to risk the country’s future to further his career.