David Cameron should be prepared to walk away from his European Union negotiations and allow Britain to forge a “glorious” future outside the EU if the talks fail, Boris Johnson has said.
In his first Parliament speech in seven years, Johnson set himself as potential leader of the Tories’ “No” campaign, saying Britain could be just as prosperous if it negotiates a free trade agreement with the EU.
“If you are going to go into a difficult international negotiation of this kind, you have got to be prepared to walk away if you don’t get the result that you want,” the new Tory MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip said.
“If we don’t get the deal that is either in the interests of this country or of Europe we should be prepared to strike out and forge an alternative future that could be just as glorious and just as prosperous with a free-trading arrangement.”
Johnson qualified his remarks by saying that he was confident the prime minister would succeed in his EU negotiations as he praised Cameron for embarking on a “schmooze-athon” across Europe.
Johnson told MPs: “We now have a Tory majority government with a clear mandate to seek change; therefore a government in the most powerful position in our lifetimes to deliver reform and improvement in Europe. We can. We can win that argument by being relentlessly positive and … making it clear what we are advocating is not simply in the interests of Britain, but in the entire EU.
“I congratulate the prime minister for the elan and the success with which he has begun his pan-European schmooze-athon in the chancelleries of Europe. I believe his efforts will be crowned with success.”
Keen to quash speculation
Johnson, who first made his name as Daily Telegraph‘s Brussels correspondent by baiting the former European commission president Jacques Delors in the 1990s, has been keen recently to quash speculation that in private he is pro-EU. Johnson knows he will need to emphasise his Euro-sceptic credentials if he is to succeed Cameron as Tory leader.
But Johnson’s remarks suggest that he might even be prepared to take a leading role in his party’s “No” campaign, that will be launched after the prime minister concludes his EU negotiations. The ranks of this group will swell if Cameron is seen to have secured a weak deal.
Johnson has been made a member of Cameron’s Cabinet; he is due to be given a full Cabinet post when his term at City Hall ends next May. The prime minister hopes to have completed EU negotiations by then.
Johnson, who has recently had a biography of Winston Churchill published, warned both sides in the EU debate to be careful about claiming the mantle of Britain’s wartime leader. Churchill argued in favour of a “United States of Europe” but said that Britain should not be a member.
The London mayor said: “I notice, in the course of trying to settle this argument over the last few days, assorted speakers have invoked the memory of Churchill in one way or another. I have to tell you Churchill was absolutely useless on this subject. He is biblical on this matter. You can find a text to justify almost any proposition about our relations with Europe that you choose. But one thing he believed in passionately was Parliament as the expression of the will of the British people. He would want to see that democratic principle upheld today.” – Guardian News & Media 2015