Boris Johnson is back to his old tricks, causing headaches for David Cameron. After the Prime Minister’s confused position on whether ministers should be allowed to take part in the ‘Out’ campaign, the Mayor of London thrown a grenade at the idea that collective responsibility will hold. On his LBC phone-in this morning, Johnson said it would be ‘safer and more harmonious’ to allow ministers to campaign with their conscience:
‘I think in 1975, from memory, I think cabinet ministers were allowed to campaign against staying in and to keep their positions. It seemed to work last time …
‘Just thinking about it out loud, on the spur, of the moment, let me think: I think probably it would be safer and more harmonious just to say ‘Okay, you make your minds up’.
‘I think probably on something like this, do you really need to bind everybody in? There will be different views, get it over.’
‘The prime minister will be able to make a recommendation. It’s almost certain if he gets the deal that he wants the overwhelming majority of his colleagues on both the front and backbenches will support him.
Helpfully, Johnson also took a tough line on what Britain needs to gain from a renegotiation to stay in the EU. Limiting migrant benefits is a red line for him:
‘I would think that it’s pretty clear from everything that has been said so far that, at least on that first point, that is to say unless we can get treaty change to prevent migrant workers from being able to access benefits before they have been here for four years, obviously there will be no alternative but to recommend a No.’
Given that Cameron is apparently still trying to decide whether he will suspend collective responsibility or not, Boris’ intervention couldn’t have come at a worse time. No.10 has long been suspicious of the Mayor’s motives and it is precisely this sort of intervention that will exacerbate these concerns.
If Johnson ends up edging towards the Out campaign, it remains to be seen whether he will still be given a full Cabinet post with a department (as rumoured) when his term as Mayor comes to an end in May 2016.