Boris Johnson claims email ordering senior staff to publicly back mayor of London's Brexit campaign was 'cock-up'

 'Either advocate the Mayor’s position or otherwise do not openly contradict it,' the email said

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Boris Johnson has been accused of hypocrisy after senior staff were told to publicly back his campaign for a Brexit or keep quiet as the EU referendum approaches.

An email from the Mayor’s chief of staff, Edward Lister, ordered deputy mayors and advisers to “support” his campaign but Mr Johnson said it was later withdrawn.

“The advice also makes clear that GLA officers can, when not at work, express personal opinions (which be contrary to the Mayor’s views),” said the email, which was published by the BBC.

Boris on Longworth and Brexit

“Whilst this is the formal position for you also, I would expect, given your roles, you either to advocate the Mayor’s position or otherwise not openly to contradict it.”

The note claimed there was a “fundamental difference” between elections and referendums that mean the authority, which is funded by Westminster and taxes to control London’s transport, policing, emergency planning and other areas, is allowed to take a public stance ahead of the vote.

"Boris is entitled, as Mayor, to adopt a public position on this issue and then, as with all other mayoral policies, to receive support from GLA officers in relation to that policy position,” the email, thought to have been sent on Friday, said.

“There are no parties and no candidates, and so you are all able to be involved in the campaign as you wish (but without using the Authority’s resources for your personal activities)."

Mr Johnson faced an immediate backlash, with people immediately pointing to his criticisms of the campaign to stay in the EU which he has previously described as “project fear”.

He made the comment while criticising the suspension of John Longworth from his role as the director general of the British Chambers of Commerce after he backed Brexit.

Mr Johnson said on Tuesday that the advice had been withdrawn, apparently after he was alerted to the BBC's impending story on the matter on Monday evening.

“Nobody has been gagged, I was only made aware of this edict very late last night and it ceased to be operative as soon as I was made aware of it,” he said.

“All I can say is it obviously hasn't been operative because my advisory team take a very different view from's a cock-up and not something I agree with”.

His official spokesperson previously confirmed the existence of the order, saying it was "in line with that issued by the GLA's statutory officers".

Boris Johnson is seen as one of the key threats to David Cameron's'stay' campaign

"The mayor is relaxed about any of his team of advisers in a personal capacity campaigning for or supporting either side in the EU referendum,” he added.

"He wants to see an open and inclusive debate and recognises that some of his advisors have differing views to those he holds.

"In his role as chief of staff, Ed Lister advised the team that as official mayoral policy is now to support the case for leaving the EU, they are requested to support that position when undertaking official city hall business."

Mr Johnson is among a group of high-profile Tories including Michael Gove who are campaigning for an exit, while the Prime Minister is leading the Government’s official position on the “stay” campaign ahead of the vote on 23 June.

Additional reporting by PA