“It is surely a boon for the world and for Europe that she [Britain] 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.”
So, remarkably, wrote Boris Johnson, just two days before coming out for Leave. He penned the unpublished article, revealed in a book by the political journalist Tim Shipman, as he weighed up the arguments for leaving or remaining in the EU before announcing his decision to the waiting world.
There is no doubt that Johnson’s verdict mattered. Arguably, it changed the course of British history. Even Nigel Farage has admitted that the Leave camp would probably not have won the referendum without Boris, who gave it the X factor appeal it would otherwise have lacked.
Johnson’s draft article admitted that Brexit could hasten the break-up of the United Kingdom by persuading Scotland to leave. His warning now looks prophetic, as Nicola Sturgeon prepares to publish a bill for a second independence referendum, to be held if Scotland cannot remain in the single European market, as she continues her game of chicken with Theresa May.
Although friends describe Johnson’s unpublished piece as half-hearted, it could be seen as part of a genuine attempt to look at both sides of the argument as he faced an agonising dilemma.
These friends insist that he was warned by Ben Wallace, a close ally, that coming out for Leave would damage rather than enhance his prospects of succeeding David Cameron. Yet the episode reinforces the impression of a man taking a decision out of self-interest rather than the national interest. Wallace also told Johnson: “The upside is that if the ‘outers’ win, then you will be masters of all.” It didn’t quite work out like that; a Remainer became Prime Minister, although the job of Foreign Secretary was a pretty good consolation prize
All the signs are that Johnson did not expect Leave to win the referendum – including that look of utter shock on his face on the morning after, and the Leavers’ total lack of a plan for Brexit. (We still don’t have one now, almost four months after the referendum).
Johnson’s decision looks like an each-way bet: if Remain won, he would build up his credentials with Tory Eurosceptics, boosting his prospects of succeeding Cameron when he stood down before the next general election. If Leave won, then Johnson would have a very good chance of entering Downing Street quickly. Cameron always believed privately that “Boris will do what is right for Boris”. On that, he was proved right.
Johnson now claims that when he wrote the article, it was “blindingly obvious” that the right thing to do was to back Leave. However, other accounts suggest he was in turmoil until the last minute. According to a book by Sir Craig Oliver, Number 10’s former director of communications, Johnson had a characteristic “wobble” after informing Cameron he would back Leave. “Depression is setting in,” he told Cameron in a text message.
What experts have said about Brexit
What experts have said about Brexit
1/11 Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond
The Chancellor claims London can still be a world financial hub despite Brexit “One of Britain’s great strengths is the ability to offer and aggregate all of the services the global financial services industry needs” “This has not changed as a result of the EU referendum and I will do everything I can to ensure the City of London retains its position as the world’s leading international financial centre.”
2/11 Yanis Varoufakis
Greece's former finance minister compared the UK relations with the EU bloc with a well-known song by the Eagles: “You can check out any time you like, as the Hotel California song says, but you can't really leave. The proof is Theresa May has not even dared to trigger Article 50. It's like Harrison Ford going into Indiana Jones' castle and the path behind him fragmenting. You can get in, but getting out is not at all clear”
3/11 Michael O’Leary
Ryanair boss says UK will be ‘screwed’ by EU in Brexit trade deals: “I have no faith in the politicians in London going on about how ‘the world will want to trade with us’. The world will want to screw you – that's what happens in trade talks,” he said. “They have no interest in giving the UK a deal on trade”
4/11 Tim Martin
JD Wetherspoon's chairman has said claims that the UK would see serious economic consequences from a Brexit vote were "lurid" and wrong: “We were told it would be Armageddon from the OECD, from the IMF, David Cameron, the chancellor and President Obama who were predicting locusts in the fields and tidal waves in the North Sea"
5/11 Mark Carney
Governor of Bank of England is 'serene' about Bank of England's Brexit stance: “I am absolutely serene about the … judgments made both by the MPC and the FPC”
6/11 Christine Lagarde
IMF chief urges quick Brexit to reduce economic uncertainty: “We want to see clarity sooner rather than later because we think that a lack of clarity feeds uncertainty, which itself undermines investment appetites and decision making”
7/11 Inga Beale
Lloyd’s chief executive says Brexit is a major issue: "Clearly the UK's referendum on its EU membership is a major issue for us to deal with and we are now focusing our attention on having in place the plans that will ensure Lloyd's continues trading across Europe”
8/11 Colm Kelleher
President of US bank Morgan Stanley says City of London ‘will suffer’ as result of the EU referendum: “I do believe, and I said prior to the referendum, that the City of London will suffer as result of Brexit. The issue is how much”
9/11 Richard Branson
Virgin founder believes we've lost a THIRD of our value because of Brexit and cancelled a deal worth 3,000 jobs: We're not any worse than anybody else, but I suspect we've lost a third of our value which is dreadful for people in the workplace.' He continued: "We were about to do a very big deal, we cancelled that deal, that would have involved 3,000 jobs, and that’s happening all over the country"
10/11 Barack Obama
US President believes Britain was wrong to vote to leave the EU: "It is absolutely true that I believed pre-Brexit vote and continue to believe post-Brexit vote that the world benefited enormously from the United Kingdom's participation in the EU. We are fully supportive of a process that is as little disruptive as possible so that people around the world can continue to benefit from economic growth"
11/11 Kristin Forbes
American economist and an external member of the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England argues that the economy had been “less stormy than many expected” following the shock referendum result: “For now…the economy is experiencing some chop, but no tsunami. The adverse winds could quickly pick up – and merit a stronger policy response. But recently they have shifted to a more favourable direction”
Cameron described Johnson as a “confused Inner”. That fits with the impression that Johnson believed a referendum decision to leave would force the EU to make further concessions to Britain to keep it in the club. The improved deal could then be put to the British people in a second referendum. If Johnson did believe that, it was a misjudgement; it is not going to happen.
If Johnson was not sure about such a momentous decision, surely he should have backed the status quo rather than risked Brexit. Instead, he decided to play with fire and it is the British people who now risk being burned.
The least the Foreign Secretary can do is to be true to his own words in the unpublished article and argue inside the Cabinet for the closest possible links to the “market on our doorstep”. Let us hope that he now puts the national interest first.Reuse content