THE UK’s withdrawal from the European Union would not be as “cataclysmic” for British jobs as supporters of membership claim, Boris Johnson has argued.
The Mayor of London was speaking amid growing pressure on David Cameron over Europe, with Tory grandees like Lord Lawson and Michael Portillo advocating withdrawal and backbenchers hoping to force a Commons vote next week, in protest at the Prime Minister’s failure to table legislation to pave the way for a referendum.
Yesterday, Mr Johnson said he did not back Lord Lawson’s call for the UK to quit the EU, but added that Britain must be ready to leave if the Prime Minister’s plan to renegotiate its membership following the 2015 general election does not bear fruit.
In a radio interview, Mr Johnson said: “My position is that I think the Prime Minister is completely right.
“What we need to do is to say to our friends and partners, ‘Listen, chums, this thing isn’t working for either of us. Your eurozone is causing all sorts of misery; plus the on-costs, the non-wage costs, of the way the EU has been running and has legislated and regulated over the last 20 to 30 years are making the whole area completely uncompetitive. We need a renegotiation. We need a look at the way the thing is managed’.
“We should be prepared to pull out. That goes without saying. You can’t go into a negotiation like that without being willing to walk away.”
Mr Johnson insisted that withdrawal would not be as damaging to the UK economy as pro-Europeans claim. He said: “I don’t think it would be anything like as cataclysmic as is being sometimes pretended.”
“I don’t think we would lose millions of jobs. I think the economic benefits and disbenefits are now much more balanced.”
Downing Street has indicated that Mr Cameron is “relaxed” about Tory MPs backing a rebel amendment tabled by eurosceptic back-benchers Peter Bone and John Baron, which “respectfully regrets” that there was no legislation for an EU referendum in the Queen’s Speech.
The PM’s official spokesman declined to say whether a whip would be imposed on Conservatives if the amendment is selected by Speaker John Bercow for a vote on Tuesday or Wednesday.
The spokesman did not rule out the possibility that the Prime Minister might even consider backing the amendment himself – effectively voting against the government’s own Queen’s Speech.
Asked at a daily Westminster briefing whether he could rule out the PM voting for the amendment, the official spokesman said: “The amendment’s only recently been tabled, so the PM would want to carefully consider it.
“The key point here is that he has always made it clear that he will look at all ways of strengthening his commitment to an in/out referendum in the next parliament.
“I’m not going to speculate about what may happen on a vote that hasn’t actually been called yet.”
Asked if Mr Cameron feared that the renewed debate about EU policy was undermining his authority, the spokesman said: “The PM welcomes the spotlight being put back on his commitment, because he has been absolutely clear that if he is the Prime Minister post-2015, he will ensure there is a referendum in 2017.”
However, backers of the rebel motion do not believe the Prime Minister is moving fast enough.
Kettering MP Philip Hollobone warned voters would not be “convinced” by any concessions which Mr Cameron obtains in negotiations, and expects the public to vote for exit even if the PM campaigns for the UK to stay in a reformed EU.
He added: “The Prime Minister wouldn’t vote to leave now. I would.”