Boris Johnson has accused the British government of “leaning on” business people to support the campaign to remain in the European Union by offering them government contracts if they toe the Remain line.
As an antidote, Mr. Johnson has said that British people should listen to Brexit-supporting entrepreneurs such as James Dyson and Anthony Bamford when weighing up the likely economic outcomes of a Brexit, rather than the doom-laden predictions coming from financiers such as George Soros who have a financial incentive to create fluctuating markets.
“I can’t tell you the pressure that Project Fear and Remain put on senior business people not to articulate their views,” he told LBC radio’s Nick Ferrari this morning.
“Everyone has an interest in keeping friendly with government.”
“I have no wish to be critical or disparaging of my friend in Downing Street, but it is well-known that there is an operation in Downing Street and you will get a call from certain gentlemen, whose names you can discover— younger, fitter people than us. Nick can go out and do the research.
“And they will say ‘look, you know, we want to continue to have contracts with you. It’s very important that we want to continue friendly relationships, there is an honours system as you know,’ all this kind of thing. And that’s how it is.
“There is a bit of leaning on.”
Mr. Johnson stepped back from accusing Downing Street of “bribery” saying: “I’m not going to cast doubt on the motives of the people who keep their heads down,” but added: “I think the stunning thing is quite how many business people are willing to put their heads above the parapet.”
In a comparatively lacklustre performance on Mr. Ferrari’s show, Mr. Johnson also spoke of feeling “profoundly unhappy” when he saw the recent poster unveiled by UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage, which depicted a line of migrants flowing into Europe alongside the words “breaking point”.
Distancing himself from Mr. Farage’s campaign he said: “We have nothing to do with that campaign. The official Vote Leave campaign was given the designation by the Electoral Commission. We have absolutely nothing to do with any other campaign. We are fighting our campaign. My campaign is based on fairness.
“On the poster, I didn’t like it, it seemed to be saying that these were bad people coming to our country. That seemed to be the message. I felt profoundly unhappy with it.
“When I was first campaigning to be mayor of London about nine years ago, I remember people saying to me that I was going to get the votes of the far right, and I said I didn’t want their votes. I don’t want them.”
Quoting the Roman poet Virgil to insist he wanted “not this aid and not these defenders,” he continued in his trademark Latin: “Non tali auxilio, nec defensoribus istis, as we say on the Vote Leave campaign.”
He added: “My vision is a positive vision. It’s only if you take back control of immigration that you can actually neutralise extremism. One of the reasons why you are seeing a rise in extremism and far right politics in Europe is because of people’s feeling that they are not being consulted about immigration and about the numbers, and the politicians who are meant to be in charge can’t control it.”
And in a response which has attracted some derision, Mr. Johnson promised to apologise on TV if Brexit led to recession, telling a listener “of course I will”.
He added: “I don’t think London has anything to fear from coming out of the EU, and neither does Britain. When has our country ever gone wrong by believing in ourselves?”
Mr Johnson will take part in a second debate on the EU referendum question this evening, again appearing alongside Labour MP Gisela Stewart and Conservative MP Andrea Leadsom.
The team was widely regarded as having won the last debate against Labour’s Angela Eagle, the Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon, and Conservative Minister Amber Rudd, after their opponents spent much of the debate taking pot shots at the former Mayor of London.