Pro-EU Camp Mocks Boris Johnson as Angling to Be Prime Minister

Boris Johnson
Former mayor of London Boris Johnson waits to speak at a Vote Leave rally in London, Britain June 4, 2016. Johnson found his alleged Prime Ministerial ambitions up for debate on Thursday. Neil Hall/Reuters

Campaigners for Britain to stay in the EU mocked anti-EU campaigner Boris Johnson Thursday for his alleged ambitions to become prime minister as the two sides clashed in an EU referendum TV debate.

As former London Mayor Johnson and colleagues from the anti-EU campaign faced a trio of pro-EU politicians in an ITV debate, those who want Britain to stay in Europe implied Johnson only decided to push for Britain to leave the bloc to help him in a future bid to succeed Prime Minister David Cameron.

Amber Rudd, a campaigner for Britain to stay in the bloc and Energy Secretary in Cameron's government, questioned Johnson's grasp of relevant statistics, and said the "only number" he was interested in was the "number 10" on the door of the Prime Minister's residence at Downing Street.

"He's the life and soul of the party," said Rudd, "But he's not the man you want driving you home at the end of the evening."

And Angela Eagle, a member of the opposition Labour Party's Shadow Cabinet, also campaigning in favor of EU membership, said to the former London Mayor: "Boris, you don't seem to care about the millions of jobs that would be at risk if we leave the EU. You only care about one job and that's your next one."

Meanwhile Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland and the third member of the pro-EU side in the debate, sought to appeal to left-wing voters by claiming that a Johnson premiership would see the destruction of workers' and women's rights.

Sturgeon quoted a 2014 speech by Johnson in which he said that the "weight" of EU employment legislation, such as the working time directive and collective redundancies directive, was "back breaking." She said: "I'm simply asking him if he's telling the truth tonight about the protection of workers' rights. Was he not telling the truth when he said he wanted to get rid of all of the ones I've just listed?"

And on the question of the National Health Service, Sturgeon said she "Wouldn't trust" broad-shouldered Johnson "With the health service as far as I could throw Boris Johnson."

But Johnson said that "I think the authority I'm inclined to trust is our Prime Minister David Cameron, who only a few months ago… was very clear that the U.K. could prosper and flourish outside of the EU."

And he said that the Remain campaign was "starting to degenerate again into 'project fear.'"

"We do not want to see any attrition of the rights of people at work, that is not what we're campaigning for," he said.

While Gisela Stuart, a Labour MP backing Johnson in campaigning against EU membership, insisted that "This is not about the current government, this is your once in a generation choice.

"This goes well beyond any of us on the panel."

Johnson is thought to be likely to enter a bid to take over the leadership of the Conservative party, and thus the Prime Ministership of Britain, when Cameron stands down as he has promised to do before the 2020 general election.