Downing Street vetoes ‘Boris Johnson in Nigel Farage’s pocket’ anti-Brexit poster

Former London Mayor Boris Johnson and UKIP party leader Nigel Farage © Reuters
Pro-EU campaign “Britain Stronger in Europe” had reportedly planned to release a poster showing Brexiteer and former London Mayor Boris Johnson in the pocket of UKIP leader Nigel Farage – but were blocked by Downing Street from using it.

Two sources involved in the 'Remain' campaign told The Times they were aware of discussions about the poster, which was supposed to be used in ads last week.

One senior source claimed it was blocked by Prime Minister David Cameron on the grounds he wants to bring the Tory party back together once the Brexit war is over. Other figures involved in the campaign say the poster is still in the “grid” of events expected before the June 23 referendum.

“They mocked up a photo of Farage with Boris in his pocket and they were going to give it to the Guardian and do a poster campaign,” the source told the newspaper.

“Then someone told David Cameron… who vetoed it on the grounds they need to bring the Tory party back together.”

A spokesperson for Britain Stronger in Europe denied the campaign had been on the verge of briefing a newspaper about the poster, but declined to comment on whether discussions took place or how far preparations had gone.

Strategists thought they could benefit from linking Johnson with “toxic” Farage, who is unpopular among swing voters in the referendum.

The attack advertisement echoes campaign posters for the Conservatives during the 2015 general election, which showed then-Labour leader Ed Miliband in the pocket of then-Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Alex Salmond.

Britain Stronger in Europe is overseen by senior Downing Street figures. Some openly express their contempt for Johnson, but the message was at odds with Cameron’s recent public statements about the campaign.

The PM is determined to smooth internal party divisions after the referendum and has been making conciliatory statements about Johnson.

In an interview with the Mail on Sunday, Cameron denied he would sack Johnson or other senior Tories campaigning for Brexit.

“We have to bring the party back together. I’ve always believed in having the big players on the pitch,” Cameron said.

Former Prime Minister Sir John Major, a leading member of the Remain campaign, has warned the Conservative Party could split over a “squalid and deceitful” Brexit campaign, branding Johnson a “court jester.”

“On the subject that they have veered towards, having lost the economic argument, of immigration, I think their campaign is verging on the squalid,” Major told the BBC.

“I am angry at the way the British people are being misled. This is much more important than a general election, this is going to affect people, their livelihoods, their future, for a very long time to come and if they are given honest, straightforward facts and they decide to leave, then that is the decision the British people take.

“But if they decide to leave on the basis of inaccurate information … then I regard that as deceitful.”

Major also warned that the National Health Service (NHS) would be about as safe as a “pet hamster with a hungry python” if it were in the hands of Johnson.

Johnson shot back, saying the remarks were coordinated and encouraged by No 10.

A YouGov poll released on Monday says 45 percent of people would vote to leave the EU, and 41 percent remain. It says 11 percent are undecided while 3 percent say they will not vote.