Boris Johnson is now bookies’ favourite to succeed David Cameron as leader of the Conservative Party after he announced he would vote for Britain to leave the EU.
Despite grovelling David Cameron spending weeks trying to woo Boris Johnson in the EU referendum battle, BoJo will be fighting against the Prime Minister in the campaign. Mr Johnson not only announced he will vote for Britain to leave the EU but he piled humiliation on the PM by breaking the news to him in a text message just nine minutes before going public.
Ambitious BoJo’s decision to back the Out campaign has been slammed as a cynical bid for the leadership of the party. A spokesman for the Remain campaign said: “This is the most nakedly self-serving piece of political positioning in years.
“Everybody in Westminster knows that Boris doesn’t really believe in Out. He’s putting his personal ambition before the national interest.” More than half of Tory MPs – including at least six Cabinet ministers – are expected to defy Mr Cameron by voting Out.
The civil war will be the biggest Conservative split in decades.
Mr Johnson said: “The last thing I wanted was to go against David Cameron or the Government. “But after a great deal of heartache, I don’t think there is anything else I can do. I will be advocating to vote Leave.”
But bookies instantly installed Mr Johnson as the new favourite to succeed Mr Cameron ahead of previous frontrunner George Osborne .
The Chancellor is passionately pro-European and now faces an uphill struggle to defeat Mr Johnson in any final vote of the Tory grassroots. The PM’s charm offensive included inviting London Mayor Mr Johnson to Downing Street for talks ahead of last week’s crunch EU summit.
But by yesterday morning Mr Cameron was reduced to begging the Tory MP on live TV not to join Out campaigners such as UKIP chief Nigel Farage and firebrand George Galloway. Mr Cameron told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show: “I would say to Boris what I say to everybody else – we will be safer, we will be stronger, we will be better off inside the EU.
“I think the prospect of linking arms with Nigel Farage and George Galloway and taking a leap into the dark is the wrong step for our country. “If Boris and if others really care about being able to get things done in our world, then the EU is one of the ways in which we get them done.”
David Cameron warns Boris Johnson not to link arms with Nigel Farage and George Galloway over EU
As one of the few politicians with wide-ranging popular appeal, Mr Johnson has long been seen as a key figure in the campaign. A recent poll found a third of people said his view could influence their vote at the EU In/Out referendum.
His dramatic announcement follows weeks of agonising. Last week he admitted to friends that he was “veering all over the place like a shopping trolley”.
Mr Johnson had previously made a series of pro-EU statements. Only this morning Tory MP Nicholas Soames said on Twitter: “Whatever my great friend Boris decides to do I know that he is NOT an outer.”
But it seems the mayor thought backing a British exit, or Brexit, from Europe would be popular with grass roots Tories who will decide on Mr Cameron’s successor as leader.
Mr Johnson planned to reveal his decision today in his £250,000-a-year column in the Telegraph.
Amid growing rumours, he drove off from his country home in Watlington, Oxon, in his people carrier and said he was in a rush to get to London.
As reports leaked through that he was set to back Brexit, he then made a hastily arranged statement outside his North London home.
Ladders, wires and camera podiums went flying as he forced his way through the media scrum on his pavement.
He said: “I will be advocating to vote Leave because I want a better deal for the people of this country, to save money and to take back control.”
Boris Johnson sets crash course with Cameron by insisting Britain is better off out of the EU
Asked why he had taken so long to make the announcement, he replied: “It’s been agonisingly difficult.”
He denied his decision was aimed at helping him become the next Tory leader. But bookies installed him as the new favourite to succeed fellow Old Etonian Mr Cameron.
In his Telegraph column, Mr Johnson said voting Out could force the EU into bigger reforms than those negotiated by Mr Cameron on Friday night at the EU summit in Brussels.
Mr Johnson wrote: “All EU history shows they only really listen to a population when it says No.”
Lib Dem leader Tim Farron said BoJo’s decision to support the Out campaign was “a deeply cynical move from a deeply ambitious politician who is using an In/Out referendum as a back door to No10”.
It could also cause ructions in the Johnson family. Boris’s brother Jo, the Universities Minister, yesterday tweeted his support for the In campaign.
Ministers set to vote Out on June 23 include Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who sparked fury for suggesting staying in the EU leaves Britain open to a Paris-style terror attack.
Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham called the comments “highly irresponsible” and “inaccurate”.
Half of the chief executives of FTSE100 companies are expected to put their names to a letter on Tuesday warning that if Britain leaves the EU it could put our economy at risk by deterring investment.