Is The Mayor Of London Right On Europe?

Andy Thornley
By Andy Thornley Last edited 27 months ago
Is The Mayor Of London Right On Europe?
Boris Johnson
Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. Picture: © Andy Thornley

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.

David Cameron and Boris Johnson
David Cameron and Boris Johnson face a fight for Number 10. Picture by Dave Cool from the Londonist Flickr Pool

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.

Prime Minister David Cameron
The (current) prime minister, David Cameron. Picture: © Andy Thornley

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.

Last Updated 24 February 2016

Continued below.


In the 70s I was an enthusiastic pro-European, attended conferences in Brussels and Luxembourg and generally campaigned for the successful event when 6 countries became 9 in 1973: it seemed modernising and ambitious for Britain to associate itself with other successful economies like France and West Germany. Even at student conferences we divided between French and German 'federalists' (those who wanted a political union) and Anglo/Dutch/Scandinavian 'confederalists' who wanted only an economic union. After a period of economic cooperation, the centre core of the EU became heavily politicised towards federation and the anxious accession of former Eastern Bloc countries has brought more pressure for political union, lest they are somehow re-claimed by Russia. The next five potential accessions will further dilute the European economy - Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Bosnia-Hercegovina and Serbia bring nothing to the table except near-bankruptcy and demands for subsidy. Introducing more and more poorer Warsaw Pact economies has devalued the original ideals of being an economic engine or even a club of politically like-minded nations - apart from Switzerland and Norway there's none we could bring in on the 'credit' side, and despite the fact I'm culturally pro-European and unlike most Brits can hold a conversation in three continental languages, I'm now in favour of strategic withdrawal. We are the world's fifth largest economy with a turnover equivalent to a sixth of the entire 28-nation EU on our own. We will not fail outside it: the EU will continue to trade with us for everything we make it wants to buy, and to sell everything it has itself massively over-produced with community subsidies: like dairy, olive oil, cars and wine.


London MPs being anti-EU when their constituents are from all over the place is a strange thing. See Kate Hoey MP, of Vauxhall ward -- which includes Stockwell, which includes Little Portugal. But then I suppose she's never hid her opinion on the EU since being elected 20-odd years ago.

Peter Kemp

Boris is completly wrong , in all sorts of ways .... i feel his main motive is a self serving one, NOT as the Mayor of London the best interests of London, which in turn are the best interestd of the UK as a whole. To me it is also an emotional issue, i am an outward looking person, i want to feel European as well as English. I cannot imagine us outside. I travelled to Norway two years ago, spoke with many informed Norwegians, the y ALL said that Norway had to comply with 90% of EU legislation to be able to trade with the EU properly, BUT had no seat at the table when decisions where being made. The thought to me of leaving and having figures such as Nigel Farage, George Galloway being more promonant makes me shudder. I note today Friends of the Earth are supporting remaining in ..... a very fare point, environemental issues do not stop at the UK borders, neither does the threat of Russia


Too many immigrants in London and thousands more in Calais trying to get over. Time to put up the 'not welcome' sign and close the border.

Greg Tingey

Err MANCHESTER is Britain's second city, Brum is just a dump ....
Boris is probably right - for all the wrong reasons.
No-one at all (except perhaps M Gove) is looking at the real dangers of "Europe" - the gradual abolition of Common Law, rule by Roman-Law judges for elsewhere & the vile, illegal & anti-democratic European Arrest Warrant, which is contrary to the Bill of Rights


It's simple really, Boris is taking the personally rewarding route. It's not what an honest well meaning politician will do, but it is what Boris will do, because he is that sort of guy. Does it harm us as city? absolutely. Will it influence many undecided voters on the fringes of London and in the home counties? most probably. Will it be a game changer? Potentially, but it all depends on what campaign can finance itself best and mount a massive PR campaign.

The situation media-wise is different now that it was in 1975. Back then the pro-EU campaign raised double what it spent, money came from everywhere. But it was easy to control media back then. It is more difficult these days with social and digital media influencing much of the electorate. These are not easy to control, even with big money.

The other issue, is the toxicity of certain topics. Immigration being the most important. There is a feeling some have in the UK that our strategic geographic position would give us leverage to control our border better than if we were in the EU. But that means nothing, because no one is going to go demolish the Euro tunnel any time soon, and it is unlikely we will suddenly stop allowing fellow European nationals from visiting the UK. We had shared agreements with these countries way before EU became a thing.

Lastly, while London and the economy are at the heart of this, the arguments cannot negate the other aspects, like security and culture. This isn't just about wine and cheese, it is about a strong European identity able to be a significant global player, particularly in the face of rising extremism coming from Iran, Russia and even ISIS. The US is weaker than ever on the global stage, and it is in our strategic interests to keep the west afloat. NATO alone will not do it, because NATO is firepower, and that isn't the solution. It certainly didn't help in Ukraine or Syria...

Greg Tingey

Yes, for entirely the wrong reason, which is typical of BoJo.
The real reasons for gettinbg out of the EU are to do with Law & fundamental freedoms.
The EAW means you can be arrested, thrown into a foreign slammer for years, without even a prima facie case being made against you. It's contrary to the Bill of Rights, but who cares about that?
Ditto, in England, the supercession of Common Law by "Roman" &/or code Napoleon law, which really is not a good idea.
Oh, the amazing big-boys/corporations corruption & lobbying in Brussels, squeezing small firms & private individuals out.