David Cameron has warned Boris Johnson against “linking arms” with Nigel Farage and George Galloway in backing Britain’s exit from the EU.
Ahead of the Mayor of London’s long-awaited announcement tonight, the Prime Minister made a direct plea for him to support the ‘In’ campaign in the European Union referendum on June 23.
With all eyes on Boris - whose backing could add 15% to the ‘Brexit’ camp, according to a recent poll - Mr Cameron rolled out his biggest arguments that the UK would be ‘safer’ and ‘stronger’ inside the EU.
The PM warned that with “Putin to the East and ISIL/Daesh to the south”, Europe needed to stick together to defend itself from threats from abroad.
But as Tory splits over the EU became wider than ever, he also warned Boris against being on the same side as UKIP leader Mr Farage and Respect party leader Mr Galloway.
Many on Twitter have ridiculed Mr Farage’s decision to join forces with Mr Galloway, with the In campaign citing it as their biggest propaganda weapon, given how negatively both men poll among parts of the electorate.
— Stronger In (@StrongerIn) February 21, 2016
The unlikely allies, who appeared together at a rally in Westminster on Friday night, did win the backing however of comedian Jim Davidson, who tweeted today “nothing wrong with Nigel and George”.
Nothing wrong with Nigel and George
— Jim Davidson (@JimDOfficial) February 21, 2016
And some Eurosceptics hit back at the PM, pointing out that Ulster politicians and the Labour leader were backing the In camp.
Eurosceptic Tory source hits back at Galloway/Farage line: "You could equally warn the PM against linking arms with Corbyn and Gerry Adams."
— Harry Cole (@MrHarryCole) February 21, 2016
Boris’s sister Rachel revealed today that he would finally announce his decision at 10pm, when his Daily Telegraph column will be tweeted out.
Yet Mr Cameron used the Andrew Marr programme to make one last, direct appeal to the Mayor of London and Uxbridge MP.
"I would say to Boris what I say to everybody else, which is that we will be safer, we will be stronger, we will be better off inside the EU,” he said.
"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 .
“And if Boris and others really care about being able to get things done in our world then the EU is one of the ways we get them done."
In a fresh blow to Mr Cameron, it emerged today that Zac Goldsmith, the Tory candidate to succed Boris as Mayor of London, was backing Brexit too.
Novelist Robert Harris joined in the waiting game.
The country sits by the phone, waiting for Boris to ring pic.twitter.com/wK5I3Kavzs
— Robert Harris (@Robert___Harris) February 21, 2016
And spoof Twitter account General Boles couldn't resist imagining what the Boris column would look like.
***** BREAKING *****
My sources at the Telegraph (hi Chris) have leaked the first part of Boris's column pic.twitter.com/VFL9tKdpj3
— General Boles (@GeneralBoles) February 21, 2016
Speculation that Mr Johnson will back “Brexit” has been rife since last week, when he emerged unconvinced from a Downing Street meeting with the Prime Minister about plans to protect British Parliamentary sovereignty from EU laws.
His economic adviser Gerard Lyons gave fresh hints today, tweeting at length about the benefits of Britain outside the EU.
— Gerard Lyons (@DrGerardLyons) February 21, 2016
HuffPost UK understands that the Mayor has been agonising over his decision because he is “genuinely torn” over the case for Brexit and his loyalty to the PM.
His sister Rachel told Sky News today: “His participation in either camp is going to be very significant and this is why he’s taking so long to decide.
“The deal came through on Friday and perhaps you could all imagine that it’s a very, very hard choice he has to make. And it’s a hard choice for everybody to make because there are good and bad arguments on both sides.
“I have spoken to him and he will let everybody know his decision in his Daily Telegraph column which will be tweeted out at 10 o’clock tonight.
“It is agonising.. This is not in any sense boris milking his decision for maximum publicity. This is an enormously complicated decision for everybody not just Boris. This is going to be the Euro ‘vision’ song contest that’s going to go on for four months.”
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UKIP leader Mr Farage today defended his decision to share a stage with Mr Galloway on Friday night, a moment that sparked a walkout by many pro-Brexit supporters.
“He was very disobliging about me last year in quite personal terms…[But] I don’t think i’ve got a great pull amongst the Muslim community in this country, George does,” he told Sky News.
“Eighty per cent of those eligible to vote in the general election, did not vote Conservative…To win this referendum we need different messages to different parts of electorate."
Mr Farage said that he now believed that Boris would back Brexit. "Hurrah," he said.
But Lib Dem leader Tim Farron said: "Boris has had more positions on Europe than the Karma Sutra".
And Alan Johnson, leader of Labour's In campaign, said Boris had never written anything that suggested he would really back Brexit. He pointed out Boris's brother Jo, a Government minister, and his father Stanley, an environmentalist, both backed the In camp.
Labour's Shadow Defence Secretary Emily Thornberry declared: "I don’t take Boris Johnson seriously and I never have.”