Boris Johnson’s father was in Belfast yesterday to argue against his son’s position on the European Union.
Stanley Johnson addressed an event at Queen’s University about the EU and environmental protection.
Mr Johnson is a firm supporter of the UK remaining in the European Union, which puts him at odds with his son, the ex mayor of London, an outspoken Brexit backer.
The News Letter spoke to Mr Johnson before his talk and asked him about the contrast with his son’s stance.
“I am absolutely thrilled at what he has done,” he said. “I think he and Michael Gove and the others they have brought life and energy to this debate and the really exciting thing about this whole exercise is that the great British people, 60 million are going to have to take a really important decision.”
But after this display of emphatic loyalty to his son, Mr Johnson made clear his support for EU membership on environmental grounds.
“My concern in setting up the Environmentalists for Europe was to be absolutely sure that some of the other sides of the coin, the benefits of Remain, were made absolutely clear – and not just economic benefits, that’s why I’ve been talking about the environmental benefits, I’ve spent years and years in Europe, I was in the Commission, I was in the European Parliament and all that stuff about environmental protection is really important.”
He said he had been an environmentalist since he joined the World Bank in the 1960s.
“I think it is very, very important that these issues are brought to the fore.”
He said that that Irish border was “an absolutely crucial issue”: “In a Brexit situation you might have to reintroduce a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and that I think would be difficult.”
Asked about the fact that there is no environmental protection agency in Northern Ireland, he said: “You are in a very special situation where the actual level of protection that is introduced by the EU is particularly important. Well for example now there’s a procedure going on at the moment relating to Lough Neagh, it is a protected area under the habitats directive, under the birds directive. I am pleased to hear that you are now going to the European Court and going to the European Commission, look, the government is not doing its job properly.”
James Orr, of Friends of the Earth who hosted the event, said: “FoE support the remain campaign and we want to demonstrate the importance to the environment of staying in the EU.
“For example, many of our special places such as the River Faughan, Lough Neagh and Strangford Lough are designated sites of European importance.
“Whilst we are concerned about the lack of implementation of EU law in relation to these sites we are convinced that the Directives that apply to these sites remain a vital and often a last line of defence to protect these special places.”