London mayor takes up the cudgels for Brexit

Mr Johnson leaving the Houses of Parliament in London on his bicycle last Monday. The influential politician says he is "massively pro-migrants" but cautioned that there is a need for managed immigration.
Mr Johnson leaving the Houses of Parliament in London on his bicycle last Monday. The influential politician says he is "massively pro-migrants" but cautioned that there is a need for managed immigration.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

He hits back at Cameron, challenging warnings that leaving EU would bring economic chaos

LONDON • Mayor of London Boris Johnson yesterday came out fighting for Britain to leave the European Union (EU), warning that the country had "given away control of our destiny".

The charismatic politician electrified the campaign for the June 23 referendum by declaring recently that he backed a so-called Brexit, positioning himself against Prime Minister David Cameron.

After a few days out of the headlines, Mr Johnson hit back at the Premier, a long-term rival in their Conservative Party. He said recent reforms that Mr Cameron secured on welfare payments to EU workers seemed "unlikely, frankly" to reduce the number of new arrivals.

Mr Johnson, who has the rare ability to appeal to voters outside his own party, said that he was "massively pro-migrants" and proud to lead a city as diverse as London.

But he added: "The numbers coming in put massive pressure on housing and other provisions such as social services and education. What we need is managed immigration."

He said his campaign would focus on challenging warnings that leaving the EU would bring economic chaos, while acknowledging there would be an "initial period of dislocation and uncertainty".

"I will do my absolute best to dismiss Project Fear, which I think is nonsense. Britain could have a really great future, with a more dynamic economy and a happier population," said Mr Johnson.

Mr Cameron had condemned an idea seemingly mooted by Mr Johnson that a vote to leave the EU was not final, and instead could be a negotiating tactic to win further concessions from Brussels.

But Mr Johnson later reiterated that "out is out", adding: "This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. It is not going to come around again."

The campaign to take Britain out of the EU has taken a 4 percentage-point lead, according to an online survey taken by the ORB pollster published last Friday.

The poll showed that support for the "out" campaign had risen to 52 per cent from 48 per cent a month ago, while support for the "in" campaign had fallen to 48 per cent from 52 per cent a month ago.

But 60 per cent of the respondents said Mr Johnson's decision to support the "out" campaign made them no more likely to vote to ditch EU membership. Only 26 per cent said his decision made them more likely to vote to leave.

Half agreed that the economy was a bigger issue than immigration, while 37 per cent disagreed.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 28, 2016, with the headline 'London mayor takes up the cudgels for Brexit'. Print Edition | Subscribe