Foreign secretary Boris Johnson was left red faced by the emergence at the weekend of a secret article he penned in February but never published outlining the case for remaining in the EU.
It stands in sharp contrast to the Telegraph column he published later that month, which established him as a frontline Brexiteer. The former London mayor says he wrote the pro-EU piece as an intellectual exercise, after which it was “blindingly obvious” that he should back Brexit.
Here are some of the main contrasts and inconsistencies between the two articles.
1. In his pro-remain piece, Johnson evoked the “Putin factor”, suggesting that a Brexit vote would encourage more “shirtless swaggering” from the Russian president. However in his pro-leave column, the foreign secretary disregarded this, arguing that Putin would be more emboldened by the West’s passivity in Syria than by a Brexit vote.
2. Johnson underscored the benefits of single market membership, saying: “this is a market on our doorstep, ready for further exploitation by British firms: the membership fee seems rather small for all that access”. In his contrasting pro-Brexit piece, he argued that having run the world’s biggest empire, “why should [signing quick trade deals] be impossible?” In fact, as discussions with Australia demonstrated, trade negotiations must wait for Britain’s formal exit, and even then they are unlikely to be quick.
3. In his pro-remain article, Johnson criticised aspects of David Cameron’s deal with the EU, but lauded, among other things, the exemption from the ever-closer union and further political integration that Cameron secured. However in his pro-leave piece, he argued that those commitments “cannot stop the machine” of European integration.
4. On Scotland, Johnson worried “that an English-only “leave” vote could lead to the break-up of the union”. Yet in his pro-leave column, he wrote: “most of the evidence I have seen suggests that the Scots will vote on roughly the same lines as the English”. In fact, Scotland voted 62% to 38% to remain, while England and Wales voted to leave. At the SNP conference on Friday Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon declared her intention to prepare for a second Scottish independence referendum.
5. In his pro-remain piece, Johnson wrote: “almost everyone expects there to be some sort of economic shock as a result of Brexit”. He said that “doomsters” were bound to exaggerate but questioned whether they were completely wrong. Yet in his pro-leave column, he used the example of the decision to stay out of the euro – when predictions of an economic shock turned out to be false – to suggest that the economic consequences would be mild. In fact, the pound has slumped by a fifth against the dollar since the referendum, financial institutions are considering relocating outside of the UK and the potential impact of Brexit on trade terms has yet to take effect.
Given the strength of his pro-remain arguments, it seems as though one of the Leave campaign’s most powerful advocates could have gone either way. And in the case of Scotland, trade and the economy, Britain is just starting to face some of the negative consequences he anticipated.
InFacts contacted Boris Johnson but received no response.
Edited by Paul Taylor