LONDON Oct 15 Boris Johnson, who campaigned
prominently for Britain to leave the European Union ahead of a
June referendum, argued in favour of remaining in the bloc in an
unpublished newspaper column two days before backing Brexit,
according to a newspaper report.
Former London mayor Johnson, who became foreign affairs
minister in the new government that took office after the
referendum, wrote columns both for and against Brexit to clarify
his thoughts on the issue, the Sunday Times reported.
The report said his "remain" column argued that Britain
should be intimately engaged with the EU, warned of an economic
shock if it left, and suggested British financial contributions
to the EU were a small price to pay for single market access.
These points all contradict arguments that Johnson made time
and again on the campaign trail, and has continued to make since
being elevated to the Cabinet.
A spokesman for Johnson declined to comment.
A source familiar with what happened at the time told
Reuters the Sunday Times article was accurate, adding that
Johnson was leaning heavily towards Brexit when he wrote the
"remain" column but wanted to satisfy himself he had tested all
The source said that having written it, Johnson immediately
said that the arguments in favour of staying in the bloc "don't
The Sunday Times published excerpts from the column, which
was written in February, in a front-page article released late
"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?" he wrote, according to the article.
During the campaign, Johnson traveled around Britain on a
bus emblazoned with a slogan suggesting that Britain was sending
350 million pounds ($435 million) a week to the EU - a figure
rejected as inaccurate by experts - and the money would be
better spent on the National Health Service.
Before becoming foreign secretary, Johnson was better known
for many years for his comic talent, colourful language and
dishevelled hair than for his attention to policy detail.
The son of a senior EU official who spent part of his
childhood in Brussels, Johnson first made his name as a
newspaper correspondent there in the early 1990s, where he wrote
numerous articles denouncing European regulations.
People who knew him at that time have said that Johnson's
eurosceptic beliefs were not as deeply rooted as he made out,
and his Brexit stance was at least partly motivated by personal
ambition and political calculation.
Popular thanks to his charm and eccentricity, Johnson had
been expected to put himself forward to succeed David Cameron as
prime minister in the event of a vote for Brexit. Cameron had
led the "remain" campaign and announced his resignation the day
after the referendum.
He decided against that after Michael Gove, a Cabinet
minister and close ally on the Brexit campaign trail, betrayed
him at the 11th hour by announcing he was standing instead.
Theresa May eventually took the top job, Gove was sacked
from government, and Johnson entered the gilded halls of the
Foreign Office - an appointment by May that caused consternation
in some European capitals.
After he said it was "complete baloney" to suggest there was
a link between the EU's principle of free movement and access to
its single market, he was slapped down by French and German
ministers who suggested they could send him a copy of the
relevant treaty or explain the point to him in English.
($1 = 0.8042 pound)
(Editing by Matthew Lewis)