by Rafael Behr
This is a collective climbdown by a generation that has gamed casual anti-European sentiment for tactical advantage. It isn’t clear whether they always knew deep down that Britain was better off in the EU or have reached that understanding recently. Perhaps something in the experience of running Downing Street, the Treasury, the Foreign Office and the Home Office concentrates the mind on pragmatic Euro-engagement. Brexiters will say that Cameron and co have been captured by Europhiliac officials, or that a corrupt elite is just perpetuating its privileges. But it is also reasonable to imagine that experienced secretaries of state have some insight into what is best for the country that, say, Nigel Farage, minor party leader and failed parliamentary candidate, lacks.
This too will prey on Johnson’s mind. He does not want to be on the side of the mavericks and also-rans. His trajectory through public life, impressive by many accounts, disappoints his vanity. His first parliamentary career was stalled by gaffe and scandal. His two terms as London mayor leave a thin legacy. His return to the Commons has been unremarkable, and his efforts at wooing colleagues underwhelming. He treats MPs to takeaway curry in tinfoil boxes, while Osborne hosts catered dinners in Downing Street’s state rooms. One guest at a Team Boris reception describes it as a gaggle of “people who feel rejected and passed over” by Cameron.
So Johnson is using the referendum to bolster his credentials as a contender. He hoists himself on to the fence for maximum attention before jumping to one side with a show-stopping crash. The strangest aspect of this spectacle is that anyone in the Tory party should go along with it. The idea that the mayor of London has some privileged right to pass judgment on Cameron’s EU deal, that his opinion matters at all when his motives are so flagrantly self-aggrandising, is absurd.
Great article on Boris' will he?/ won't he? dilemma. There is a more positive side to this. That is that Boris Johnson as mayor of London was a great pragmatist, who was willing to work with both sides of the political fence. Boris the Pragmatist should be calling for us to work together with our European partners, not drifting off into a Little England fantasy.