Boris Johnson has said Britain’s continued membership of the EU would be a “boon for the world and for Europe” in an unpublished newspaper column in which he wrestles with his decision to back or oppose Brexit.
The published column, which appeared in the Sunday Times, is highly critical of the EU as an institution and the renegotiation deal sought by David Cameron. “We are being outvoted ever more frequently,” Johnson wrote. “The ratchet of integration clicks remorselessly forward.
“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.”
Sources close to Johnson said he wrote the Telegraph article for the sole purpose of trying to articulate in his mind whether there was any merit in the remain argument and dismissed it out of hand as soon as he finished.
He also warned that Brexit would cause an “economic shock” and could lead to the breakup of the United Kingdom in the article revealed in the book, All Out War: the Full Story of How Brexit Sank Britain’s Political Class.
“There is the worry about Scotland, and the possibility that an English-only “leave” vote could lead to the break-up of the union,” he wrote. “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.”
The book, which is the Sunday Times political editor, Tim Shipman, claims Johnson “wanted to punch” his Brexit ally Michael Gove after the former justice secretary announced his own bid to become prime minister on the morning of a speech in which Johnson was to announce his own candidacy, a move that ended up destroying both men’s chances and paving the way for Theresa May to enter No 10.
The book also claims Sir Lynton Crosby told Johnson to support Brexit once Cameron had ignored the election strategist’s advice to delay the referendum.
Among the other revelations, the remain campaign’s digital specialist, Jim Messina, apparently described Cameron pollster Andrew Cooper as “the worst I’ve ever worked with” for getting wrong his forecasts about the vote.
Lucy Thomas, former deputy director of the Stronger In campaign, said the unpublished column demonstrated how much of Johnson’s decision to back leaving the EU was about his political career.
“None of it is about the detail, none of it is about what life outside the EU looks like, there was no thinking about prices going up or what would happen to jobs. It is purely, ‘Was the renegotiation enough? is the status quo the right thing?’” she said.