Boris Johnson wrote three Telegraph columns praising EU freedom of movement – calling it a “noble” idea, a “good thing” and one of Europe’s “benefits”.
The articles, published between 2003 and 2005, show that the Foreign Secretary has long championed the EU’s founding “four freedoms” – of people, services, goods and capital.
On Wednesday, four EU ambassadors claimed Johnson had confessed to privately supporting free movement, a claim the former London Mayor denied. A spokesperson said: “He did not say he supported freedom of movement and challenges anyone to show proof that he ever said that.”
Yet in June 2005, Johnson wrote: “remember that some good things have come from Europe, and they include the basic four freedoms of movement of goods, people, services and capital.” He called Britons’ right to live abroad “one of the unambiguous blessings that has come from Europe”.
A year earlier, he declared: “We need a flexible, multispeed Europe that gives us all the benefits we want, of cooperation, free trade, free establishment, free movement”. In September 2003, he wrote of the single market: “The idea was partly a noble one: to encourage the free movement of goods, people, services and capital.”
By June this year, Johnson had reversed his public position. Immigration “has to be controlled,” he declared in the Mirror. “By taking back control of our borders we can finally get a grip on migration from Europe,” he wrote in the Express – adding: “Less immigration will help people on the lowest incomes” and “make life easier for young people”.
The ambassadors say Johnson revealed his support for free movement at an October breakfast meeting in London, under “Chatham House rules” – an informal confidentiality agreement. Sources close to Johnson called the four ambassadors’ account “a total lie”.
The hypocrisy might be staggering, but as a movement we must keep up the pressure for Johnson and May to retreat on this vital issue. Free movement is a precious right we must not give up.
– Luke Cooper, Another Europe Is Possible
The revelations come amid signs of confusion and contradiction in government Brexit policy. On Monday, an aide to Conservative vice-chair Mark Field was photographed entering Downing Street with a note on Brexit policy. It read: “What’s the model? Have cake and eat it”, apparently referring to single-market access with curbs on EU immigration.
A fortnight ago, a leaked Deloitte memo noted “divisions within the Cabinet” and the lack of a Brexit plan, predicting it would take May’s government six months to decide priorities and goals.
The columns will fuel suspicion that Johnson backed Brexit to advance his career over political principle.
In October, a draft February Telegraph article by Johnson came to light, backing Remain and warning Brexit threatened economic crisis and breakup of the United Kingdom. The former London Mayor wrote: “Think of the desire of your children and your grandchildren to live and work in other European countries; to sell things there, to make friends and perhaps to find partners there.”
He added of the single market: “the membership fee seems rather small for all that access.
“Why are we so determined to turn our back on it?”
In September documentary Brexit: A Very British Coup?, foreign minister Alan Duncan told the BBC he believed Johnson had wanted a Remain victory, hoping to avoid “clearing up all the mess” a vote for Brexit would leave.
“I’ve always thought that Boris’s wish was to lose by one [percentage point],” said Duncan. “By championing leave, he can be the great heir apparent of the future, darling of the activists, but actually it would be quite good if he didn’t actually win the referendum because there would be total chaos.”
Much of the public have echoed Duncan’s view. In March, a Comres poll found two in five Britons thought Johnson backed Brexit to advance his career. “Boris has got his eye on the top job, so he simply decided to go against it,” one participant told a Lord Ashcroft focus group in June. “He could easily be on the other side himself. It’s a pantomime.”
Green Party co-leader Jonathan Bartley commented: “Reports that chief Brexiteer Boris Johnson backs free movement are baffling, given the divisive role he played in the referendum campaign. But, along with suggestions that our overstretched teachers, doctors and nurses should become a second border force, they suggest that increasingly migrants are being used as pawns in a political game at the heart of Government.
“Our Government should be so much better than this.”
Luke Cooper of Another Europe Is Possible said: “After running one of the most divisive and hateful anti-immigrant campaigns in UK political history, Boris Johnson is now briefing European ambassadors to say he supports free movement. The hypocrisy might be staggering, but as a movement we must keep up the pressure for Johnson and May to retreat on this vital issue. Free movement is a precious right we must not give up.”
A spokesperson for Boris Johnson said: “The Foreign Secretary has been very clear that immigration has got too high in the past decade and we must take back control – a viewed shared by those who voted to leave in June. ONS figures clearly show the large increases we have seen since these articles were written over ten years ago.”