John Major’s bid to VETO Boris Johnson taking EU seat exposed
Mr Johnson is currently focused on the upcoming trade negotiations with the EU and he has repeatedly claimed he will stand his ground so Britain can get the best deal possible. As the Prime Minister who finally managed to take the UK out of the EU after months of delays and one of the key figureheads behind the 2016 Vote Leave campaign, he has become one of the most prominent faces of the eurosceptic movement. Yet Mr Johnson has a long, convoluted relationship with the bloc and was once the Brussels correspondent for The Telegraph.
His stories on the EU became a great success and it was not long before he decided to put himself forward as a candidate for the European Parliament.
However, this dismayed many pro-EU politicians working under John Major’s Cabinet at the time.
In Sonia Purnell’s 2011 book, ‘Just Boris: The Irresistible Rise of Political Celebrity’, the political author – and Mr Johnson’s former Brussels deputy – explained how the-then journalist’s controversial EU views had rattled those in No.10 and subsequently threatened his political dreams.
Apparently, Mr Major had a “distaste for Boris’ ambitions” along with the Conservative selection committee.
Ms Purnell said: “The thought of Boris, the notorious scourge of federalists and Europhiles everywhere, staking rightful claim to the parliamentary palaces of Brussels, Strasbourg and Luxembourg, was, for some, too much to bear.”
It was only through the Conservatives vice-chairman and a government whip, Andrew Mitchell, that Mr Johnson was able to remain as a candidate.
Ms Purnell continued: “The Prime Minister was indeed very angry but Mitchell warned that if he excluded Boris from the list, there was a danger the whole selection process would be brought into disrepute.
“He argued the list had to be seen to be a ‘broad church of Conservatism’ from which local associations could then choose.
“Mitchell’s argument won the day: undesirous of yet another row over Europe, Major eventually agreed to back down.”
Mr Mitchell told the political author: “It is to his credit that [Major] did not exercise a Prime Ministerial veto.
“After all, Boris had been persistently beastly to him and repeatedly taken the mickey out of his European policy in The Telegraph.”
Yet, Mr Mitchell also pointed out: “I don’t think Boris made the rifts over Europe worse – if he hadn’t written this stuff from Brussels, someone else would have done but he wrote it rather more elegantly.”
However, Mr Johnson acknowledged how he had aided the eurosceptic movement as a journalist on Desert Island Discs, in October 2005.
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He said: “So everything I wrote from Brussels, I found was sort of chucking these rocks over the garden wall, and I listened to this amazing crash from the greenhouse next door over in England as everything I wrote from Brussels was having this amazing, explosive effect on the Tory party, and it really gave me this, I suppose, rather weird sense of power.”
Ms Purnell continued: “The MEPs […] continued their fight against Boris right up to the final decision-making stage, which was then presided over by the candidates’ advisory committee, chaired by Lord [Basil] Feldman.
“But Feldman backed Mitchell’s view and Boris finally officially joined the candidates’ list that summer.”
However, the Conservative Party continued to fight over such a candidate and rifts deepened. Mr Mitchell had to cave and asked Mr Johnson to step back from the limelight.
Ms Purnell said: “Mindful of the row, Mitchell – ever the government whip – had extracted a promise from Boris that he would not seek a safe seat in the forthcoming Euro-elections of 1994.
“Boris duly agreed to put his name down for a ‘hopeless constituency’, that time round.”
However, Mitchell was “surprised” to see Mr Johnson had put his name down for a “plum Conservative seat”.
After some discussion, Mr Johnson did “finally” agree to withdraw, meaning he never actually stood as an MEP.
Had he entered the European Parliament in 1994, he may have become a figure akin to the Eurosceptic Nigel Farage who has led the charge against the EU from within Brussels for some years.
Still, it was not long after he returned from Brussels until Mr Johnson decided to stand as a Westminster candidate.
He went on to win the Conservative Henley seat in 2000, and he made sure he wrote “an effusive letters of thanks to Mitchell” afterwards.
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