“Let’s suppose somebody came to us all today, 2016, and said, bonjour, or guten tag, or ciao, we’ve got this brilliant idea for a new project to take all these higgledy-piggledy nations and turn them into a single political unit with a single currency and gradually moving, actually ever more rapidly, towards a single system of government, and you Brits will have to sign up for virtually all of it except the single currency. They would then be told that they would have to give up the right to make their own laws, pay for membership and have no border control. That’s the offer they make to us – a club that wastes our money massively, that subverts democracy in this country, takes away people’s power to elect the people who take the decisions, reduces the competitiveness of the European economy, and all for no real economic benefit. Why would we join such a club today? Why would we join such a woefully unreformed Europe? Would anybody in their right mind join the EU as it is today? I don’t think so.” – Boris Johnson
By Georgiana Constantin | March 28, 2016
Testifying before the British Parliament’s Treasury Select Committee on Wednesday, March 23, the day after the Brussels terrorist attacks, London Mayor Boris Johnson stated, “there are some ways now that the European Court of Justice [ECJ] is militating against our ability to control our borders in the way we want to and indeed to maintain proper surveillance.” Johnson believes the influence and control over UK law by EU judges imperils national security.
Specifically, he referred to the ECJ’s ruling against the keeping of mobile phone data by the government and security services. “Now what has that got to do with completing the internal market, what has that got to do with free trade? The answer is absolutely nothing.”
Brussels has brought into question not only the competency of those in charge of EU security but also the future of the Union itself. Many are questioning the possibility of keeping a united Europe, when the very heart of its culture can’t seem to keep itself safe from attack. Current policies of tolerance and political correctness seem to be failing and the world can no longer pretend they are not.
Such concerns of common ideals, economic and physical security and feasibility of unity were what prompted the Brexit movement in Great Britain. Only in late February, the results of the final EU negotiations seen by many as unsatisfactory prompted Johnson to come out in support of a Brexit campaign.
Although Prime Minister David Cameron’s EU deal addressed the promises made to the people of the UK with regard to more independence for the country and less burdensome EU regulations, it seems that the agreement still did not, in the end, manage to secure the level of reform for which the populace was hoping. Although his approval ratings went down during the period surrounding the EU deal negotiations, his popularity is still considerable, and the fact that Cameron is campaigning for Britain to remain part of the EU will mobilize a great number of people to vote in favor.
In the wake of an unsatisfactory deal however, Boris Johnson opted to side with the Vote Leave campaign. He explained the reason for choosing the OUT option by stating “I would like to see a new relationship based more on trade, on cooperation, with much less of this supranational element. So that is where I’m coming from and that is why I have decided, after a huge amount of heartache, because the last thing I wanted was to go against David Cameron or the government, I don’t think there is anything else I can do.” Johnson then went on to say, “I will be advocating Vote Leave – or whatever the team is called, I understand there are a lot of them – because I want a better deal for the people of this country, to save them money and to take control. That is really what this is all about.”
Johnson considers that staying in the EU is putting the UK at risk of more terror attacks. It is therefore clear how little credibility a continuation of the European project in its current form presents for some, and how current events are chipping away at whatever is left of optimism.
Johnson’s recent shift in perspective will have a substantial impact on the Brexit outcome, as his popularity is significant. This will make David Cameron’s job of convincing voters to stay in the Union all the more difficult. Then again, it is more difficult for many to side with the EU when terrorist attacks are not prevented.
In his March 11, 2016 Vote Leave speech, Johnson stated that no one “in their right mind” would actually concede to joining the EU as it is today. He started by painting a picture of what the EU club would sound and look like if it were promoted as a novel idea to a modern, economically and commercially collaborative Europe. “Let’s suppose somebody came to us all today, 2016, and said, Bonjour, or guten tag, or ciao, we’ve got this brilliant idea for a new project to take all these higgledy-piggledy nations and turn them into a single political unit with a single currency and gradually moving, actually ever more rapidly, towards a single system of government, and you Brits will have to sign up for virtually all of it except the single currency,” Johnson commenced. He noted that even though it might strike some as “a bit mad” or “idealistic,” the British people might still be willing to hear what this idea would entail. They would then be told that they would have to give up the right to make their own laws, pay for membership and have no border control.
“That’s the offer they make to us – a club that wastes our money massively, that subverts democracy in this country, takes away people’s power to elect the people who take the decisions, reduces the competitiveness of the European economy, and all for no real economic benefit,” he went on to say. “Why would we join such a club today? Why would we join such a woefully unreformed Europe? Would anybody in their right mind join the EU as it is today? I don’t think so,” he unequivocally concluded his introduction.
While the Britain Stronger in Europe campaign claimed that his speech had “one basic error every 80 seconds,” including the comparison the mayor made between the UK and Canada, which has a free trade agreement with the EU. According to the Stronger in Europe campaign however, this deal, though over seven years old, is still not implemented and only offers Canada partial access to the EU single market. Also, Johnson’s claim that a free trade agreement could be negotiated with the U.S. was criticized since “the U.S. trade representative Michael Froman has made clear the U.S. would not be ‘in the market for FTAs with Individual Countries.’” Other issues also came into question such as tariffs and the benefits of the single market.
Both the IN and OUT campaigns are now in a race against time to gain supporters and make a significant shift in popular opinions. The UK’s EU membership vote is to take place on June 23and both campaigns are in full swing.
Many strategists claim that the events in Brussels would have tipped the scales in favor of a Brexit, and, yet, others still believe Britain would be stronger in the EU, since, arguably, it would have better security. Understandably, it is hard to picture greater security in the EU, when its capital was so easily, even predictably hit by undefended terrorist attacks. Whatever the result, however, the vote to leave or stay will in itself make history and change the direction of the EU membership debate.
Georgiana Constantin is a law graduate who has studied International, European and Romanian law at the Romanian-American University in Bucharest and is presently a political science doctoral candidate at the University of Bucharest. Ms. Constantin, who is based in Romania, is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.