London Mayor Boris Johnson laid out perhaps the most ardently Eurosceptic case for the future of London in a speech that could reignite tensions in his Conservative party over Britain's relationship with the European Union.
Delivering the keynote address at a business event in Canary Wharf organized by news and data provider Thomson Reuters - London in the World Economy - Johnson set out a forceful case for the city's role in the developing global economy. However, it was his equally powerful comments about Britain's relationship with Europe that are likely to attract the most attention after he described the push for fiscal and political consolidation within the European Union "immoral" and "calamitous"
"I don't understand why we continually urge the Eurozone countries to go forward with this fiscal and political union, when we know in our hearts that it is anti-democratic and therefore intellectually and probably morally wrong," Johnson said. "We want free trade. We want the freedom to set our own monetary policy. We want an independent tax policy. We want less bureaucracy and less intrusion by Brussels into seemingly every aspect of our lives."
Johnson set out a case he described as "very simple" in which Britain should decide to remain in the EU under its own terms, based on a pared down relationship based on trade within a single market. However, he has recently retreated from his earlier "People's Pledge" commitment to offer Briton's a referendum choice on EU membership in favour of a negotiated relationship made at the government level.
"We could construct a relationship with the EU that more closely resembled that of Norway or Switzerland," Johnson argued. "Except that we would be inside the single market council, and able to shape legislation."
"We would like the EU to focus on completion of the Single Market. We want to be friends. We want a relationship in which we are not endlessly made to feel bad for not sharing every doctrine of the euro-religion."
A recent opinion poll conducted by Opinium Research suggested that 56 percent of Britons would vote to leave the European Union in a "yes-or-no" referendum with only 30 percent saying they would prefer to stay within the bloc.
The Mayor's comments come at a time when the issue of Britain's relationship with Europe has returned to dominate the Conservative led coalition government of Prime Minister David Cameron, who suffered a stinging defeat in October when party rebels joined with opposition Labour MPs and voted against him on the European Union budget negotiations.
Sceptics were emboldened when Cameron and the other twenty-six EU leaders failed to reach an agreement on spending for the next seven years after two days of tense negotiations in Brussels.
Written by Martin Baccardax