Opinion / Chris Peterson

What London mayor's Brexit stand means

By Chris Peterson (China Daily) Updated: 2016-02-26 08:43

What London mayor's Brexit stand means

After weeks of very public will he, won't he, London Mayor Boris Johnson, a former school friend and political ally of UK Prime Minister David Cameron, broke ranks and said he would join six other leading figures from the ruling Conservative Party in campaigning for the UK to leave the European Union.

Many see his move as tactical, aimed at securing first place in the queue to replace Cameron as prime minister at the next general election in 2020. Quite a few analysts, including those who support the UK leaving the EU, believe Johnson's support would tip the balance in favor of an "out" vote. Johnson, they say, is one of UK's most-loved politicians and a future prime minister. But I don't think so. Here's why.

I am starting to feel that here we have a case of a celebrity politician who has started to believe in his own publicity. If some press reports in the UK are to be believed, Cameron was so keen to get Boris on his side that he offered him several key jobs-foreign minister, defence minister and other plum posts.

Cameron returned from two days of intense negotiations in Brussels with a deal many believe will sway the vote in favor of staying in the European bloc, including a change to the treaty covering the EU which will specifically exclude the UK from moves in the EU for ever closer political union.

There's one key issue which the out camp, including the latest recruit Johnson, seem to have forgotten: UK's farming industry. At present, the UK's modernized agriculture industry, like others throughout the EU, is the recipient of various subsidies, designed to control the output of food.

Over the weekend I learned that some analysts believe only 10 percent of the UK's farmers would survive if the country pulled out of the EU. And if the government had to make up the shortfall in subsidies, taxes would surely have to increase. Johnson and his new best friends-which include such publicly disliked figures as United Kingdom Independence Party leader Nigel Farage and a maverick parliamentarian called George Galloway-have surely forgotten that.

And here's something else.

Johnson deserves praise for his work over two terms as mayor of London, developing the city into a strong, relatively prosperous metropolis with modern transport systems that played host to the highly successful 2012 Olympic Games.

But Johnson has form, too.

He was sacked by The Times, London, in 1987 after he was found to have made up a quote and included erroneous information in it. After becoming member of parliament from the prosperous town of Henley, west of London, he had a colorful career which included being sacked as the opposition Conservative Party's spokesman on the arts for what party leader Michael Howard said was the act of lying over an affair with a high-profile journalist.

Johnson bounced back to become the mayor of London in 2008, although he is alleged to have offended his Chinese hosts in Beijing at the closing ceremony of the 2008 Olympics by appearing with his jacket casually undone.

Latest opinion polls, including a poll of polls in the newspaper Johnson regularly writes a highly paid column for, the Daily Telegraph, show those in favor of staying in the EU at 54 percent and those in favor of a British exit at 46 percent.

It seems Johnson has picked the wrong side. If the vote goes in favor of the UK remaining in the EU, the mayor of London, whose term ends in May, could well find himself back in the political wilderness.

The author is managing editor of China Daily UK.

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What London mayor's Brexit stand means