Coup for 'out' campaign as London mayor lends support
London Mayor Boris Johnson threw his weight yesterday behind the campaign to leave the European Union, dealing a blow to David Cameron by increasing the chance British voters will ditch membership in a June referendum.
In a move that electrified the referendum campaign by pitting one of Britain's most charismatic politicians against the prime minister, Johnson said Cameron had failed to deliver fundamental reform with an EU deal struck on Friday.
Johnson, a political showman whose buffoonish and eccentric exterior is thought to mask a fierce ambition to succeed Cameron, said he loved European culture, civilisation and food but that the European project was in danger of getting out of democratic control.
"The last thing I wanted was to go against David Cameron or the government, but after a great deal of heartache I don't think there's anything else I can do. I will be advocating Vote Leave," Johnson told reporters outside his north London home 20 minutes after texting the prime minister his decision.
"I want a better deal for the people of this country to save them money and to take back control," said Johnson, mayor since 2008 and a member of parliament for Cameron's Conservative Party.
Sterling fell in Asia as concern grew that Britain would quit the EU. The pound fell around 1pc against the dollar, euro and yen.
Johnson (51) said he would not take part in debates against members of his own party. But his decision gives the "out" campaign a de facto leader who is one of Britain's most high-profile politicians.
Betting odds of a British exit rose to a 33pc chance from about 29pc, according to bookmakers.
Johnson dismissed questions from reporters about whether joining the campaign to leave the EU was the first step towards a bid to succeed Cameron. On the contrary, he said with a smile, Cameron should stay no matter who won the June 23 referendum.
By challenging Cameron less than 48 hours after the prime minister hailed a deal struck with other EU leaders as giving Britain a special status, Johnson deepened a divide in the Conservative Party, split over Europe for three decades.
Cast as Britain's biggest strategic decision in at least a generation, voters will be asked on June 23: "Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?"
A British exit from the EU would rock the Union - already shaken by differences over migration and the future of the euro zone - by ripping away its second-largest economy, one of its top two military powers and by far its richest financial centre.
Pro-Europeans, including former Prime Ministers Tony Blair and John Major, have warned that an exit could also trigger the break-up of the United Kingdom by prompting another Scottish independence vote.
A poll published before Johnson's move showed the "in" campaign with a lead of 15 percentage points. Polls suggest about a fifth of voters are undecided.
Johnson, instantly recognisable by his thatch of platinum-blond hair, had repeatedly avoided staking out a clear position on Britain's EU membership.
But yesterday, he said the EU was "in real danger of getting out of proper democratic control" and national sovereignty had been eroded.
"There's too much judicial activism, there's too much legislation coming from the EU," said Johnson.