Boris v Boris: The big Brexit debate

Credit: Andrew Parsons/Parsons Media
The foreign secretary wrote a previously-unseen article in support of EU membership just days before backing the Leave campaign.

By Adam George

Boris Johnson once believed that Britain should remain in the European Union to avoid worsening “geostrategic anxiety” and a possible break-up of the United Kingdom, according to a “secret,” unpublished newspaper column by the foreign secretary.

Johnson, the former mayor of London, was one of the key voices for the Leave campaign in the run-up to the June 23 Brexit vote, but had flirted with supporting the other side earlier in the year.

While deliberating over whether to support his good friend and leader, David Cameron , by campaigning for Britain to remain, Johnson wrote an alternative column for the Daily Telegraph, where he had a weekly column, in which he set out the case for the U.K. remaining a member of the union. It was not published at the time, but has been obtained by the rival Sunday Times.

The unpublished article was written on February 19, at the same time that the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, was completing a controversial renegotiation of Britain’s membership terms in Brussels, and shortly before the date for the referendum was announced.

In the piece, Johnson argued that the Outers had not fully made the case that the U.K.’s economy would be secure if it left the union. “I am sure that the doomsters are exaggerating the fallout — but are they completely wrong?” Johnson wrote. “And how can we know?” he asked.

Mr Johnson is now seen by many as a supporter of a “hard Brexit “, this week insisting that the United Kingdom could obtain a trade deal “of greater value” to the economy than access to the EU single market, which he described as an “increasingly useless” concept.

However in his pro-EU article he fully supported membership of the free trade zone. An extract from the article reads “This is a market on our doorstep, ready for further exploitation by British firms, the membership fee seems rather small for all that access. Why are we so determined to turn our back on it?”

Many people have been quick to criticise Boris’ apparent “flip-flopping” on such an important issue. The former first minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, said “Bumbling Boris has displayed extraordinary levels of confusion and contradiction over the UK’s access to the Single Market. However the joke is no longer just about Boris. His political gymnastics are now clowning around with the jobs and livelihoods of millions of people.”

Sources close to Mr Johnson said he wrote the 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.

Johnson has also claimed that the article is “meaningless” and “not worth the paper it is written on”. He also suggests that the article was semi-parody. However, it is still very embarrassing for the figurehead of the Leave campaign to be caught writing in support of Remain. Many commentators have suggested that Boris used the Brexit referendum to further his career in an attempt to become Prime Minister.

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