Boris Johnson to bolster Brexit campaign

John Manley
29 February, 2016 01:00

LONDON mayor Boris Johnson jets into the north on Monday in an effort to bolster the region's Brexit campaign.

It was unclear last night whether the high-profile Tory eurosceptic will be joined by Secretary of State Theresa Villiers at a series of events aimed at highlighting the positives of leaving the EU. Ms Villiers is among five members of David Cameron's cabinet who are expected to campaign for the UK to sever its ties with Brussels.

Mr Johnson is expected to visit a number of businesses during his whistle stop tour, including Ballymena-based Wrightbus, which in the past has supplied Routemaster buses to Transport for London.

He will confirm plans to order further buses and will meet workers at the plant.

His visit will conclude with a business reception at Hillsborough Castle hosted by the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry, in partnership with Wrightbus.

The London mayor's visit comes just 48 hours after Mr Cameron visited the north.

Speaking on Saturday, the British prime minister warned voters that the region's economy and farming industry were too closely linked to the EU to risk the "leap in the dark" of voting to quit the 28-nation bloc.

Visiting Ballybollen House farm in Co Antrim, Mr Cameron stressed the importance of EU membership to the agriculture industry.

"Many of those who want to ask you to vote to leave are actually not really sure whether they want to leave or not," he said.

"I think that should set alarm bells going in the minds of voters about the potential dangers and risks that we face if we leave."

Treasury figures put the number of jobs in Northern Ireland linked to EU trade at 50,000, with exports up over 50 per cent in real terms since 1998.

Before speaking at the farm, Mr Cameron toured the Bushmills distillery in Co Antrim, where he was shown how barrels are sealed.

A spokeswoman for Old Bushmills Distillery said the firm was "delighted" to have hosted a visit by Mr Cameron.

"Old Bushmills Distillery is part of a global company, selling in global markets," she added.

"We believe the matter of UK membership of the EU is for individual voters to decide on. Access to the EU market of 500 million people is important in a global context and will remain so."

In the wake of Mr Cameron's visit, Stormont agriculture minister Michelle O'Neill said the prime minister was struggling to control the "Frankenstein" referendum he had created.

She said the issue of EU membership was being "held hostage to the deepening divisions within the British Tory party".

"There is a growing mood across society that we are better within the EU," the Mid Ulster MLA said.

"The business community, the agricultural sector, and the community and voluntary sector have all made that clear."

But TUV leader Jim Allister accused Mr Cameron of bringing "Project Fear" to Northern Ireland.

"Clearly alarmed that the people of Ulster have seen through his puny deal and may join our fellow citizens in our nation in retaking control of its own borders, destiny and laws, by leaving the disastrous EU, the PM is in a spin peddling half-truths wherever he goes," he said.

29 February, 2016 01:00 News

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