(Repeats story first issued on Feb 21 with no change to text)
By William James and Estelle Shirbon
LONDON Feb 21 With one hand in his suit pocket
and the other mussing his signature blond hair, Boris Johnson on
Sunday took the riskiest gamble of his career: to oppose Prime
Minister David Cameron by campaigning for Britain to leave the
If the stars align for London's eccentric mayor and the
voters agree with him in a June 23 referendum, his bet could
help him win Cameron's job. But if Britons vote to stay in, he
could find that he has blown his chance for good.
A natural comedian known to all by his first name, the
dishevelled Boris has expertly kept the nation guessing for
years as to exactly how high he wanted to climb and what he
would be prepared to do along the way.
But on Sunday, on the subject of the EU at least, there was
no more beating around the bush.
"You want to ask my views on Europe, don't you?" he jokingly
asked a scrum of reporters and cameramen who had been besieging
his London home all weekend, desperate to find out which side he
would back after Cameron announced the date of the referendum.
"Let me tell you where I've got to, which is that I've made
up my mind," he said, revealing that he would push for a
"Brexit" and attacking what he described as EU judicial activism
and lack of democratic accountability.
It was his boldest move yet in a long-running game of
political chess within the ruling Conservative Party, involving
not just Boris and Cameron but also finance minister George
Osborne, the mayor's main rival to succeed the prime minister.
With Cameron pledging to put his "heart and soul" into the
fight to keep Britain in the EU, backed by Osborne and all other
serious contenders for the top job, Boris appears to have
calculated that it was worth the huge risk of opposing them.
"Boris's decision to opt for the Leave campaign means one
thing - that he thinks this is his best shot at becoming prime
minister," said Sonia Purnell, author of "Just Boris", an
unauthorised biography that is critical of the mayor.
"His obvious calculation is that Britons will vote for
Brexit, leading to Cameron stepping down and his own swift and
triumphant coronation as leader and PM," she told Reuters.
It is fitting that the biggest moment so far in his
political life should come in a debate about the EU, for
Brussels has been a defining backdrop to his life and career.
His father Stanley was a Conservative member of the European
parliament and an EU Commission official, and part of Boris's
childhood was spent shuttling between Belgium and England.
After his education at Eton boarding school and Oxford
University, both elite institutions where he was a contemporary
of Cameron, he made his name as a Brussels correspondent for the
Daily Telegraph newspaper from 1989 to 1994.
A pioneer of a particular vein of British journalism aimed
at ridiculing EU regulation, Johnson has reminisced about
"joyous hours" spent writing on subjects such as "the tense
international row over the dimensions of the Euro-condom".
He has joked that after his standard introduction, "Britain
stood alone last night as" he would fill in with details like
"Europe proceeded with plans to abolish the prawn cocktail
flavour crisp" or "abolish the curved cucumber".
The European Commission says many such stories that have
appeared in the British press over the years are at best
tenuously related to reality. It brands them "euromyths".
Back in Britain, Johnson pursued his media career as editor
of the Spectator magazine while becoming a household name thanks
to his star turns on the popular satirical TV quiz show "Have I
Got News For You".
Venturing into politics, he was first elected a Conservative
member of parliament in 2001 and in following years survived a
number of scandals about his complex private life and occasional
verbal gaffes to remain a prominent and popular figure.
But it was his election in 2008 as mayor of London, a
left-leaning city where he showed that he had sufficient popular
appeal to cut across party lines and defeat a Labour incumbent,
that really propelled him into the major league of politics.
Re-elected in 2012 for a second four-year term, Johnson has
used City Hall as a platform to air his views on a range of
subjects well beyond his mayoral remit, not least the EU, and to
hone his personal brand, especially during the 2012 Olympics.
His critics say that he has often favoured style over
substance, dedicating relatively little time to policy detail
and pursuing other interests such as his well-paid regular
Telegraph column and a recent book about Winston Churchill.
Having quit his parliamentary position in 2008 when he first
became mayor, Boris was re-elected to the House of Commons in
last year's general election, a move widely seen as a necessary
first step towards a potential bid for Cameron's job.
But Cameron led the Conservatives to an unexpected victory
in that election, securing an overall majority of seats,
cementing his position as both party leader and prime minister,
and shunting Boris and his ambitions to the back burner.
Now, Boris's decision to break rank and campaign for a
Brexit has put him firmly centre stage, with everything to play
for between now and June 23.
(Writing by Estelle Shirbon and William James; Editing by Guy
Faulconbridge and Chris Reese)