Go in hard over EU, Boris urges PM
Boris Johnson has ratcheted up the pressure on David Cameron over the European Union, saying it should be "easy" to deliver sweeping reform in Brussels.
The London Mayor, who galvanised Conservatives with his announcement yesterday that he intends to make a return to Parliament, urged the Prime Minister to "go hard into the tackle" in his talks with EU leaders.
Mr Johnson has been accused by some Tories of trying to set a trap for Mr Cameron by using a keynote speech to set an impossibly high list of demands for reform - including renegotiating the Common Agriculture Policy - ahead of a referendum on Britain's EU membership in 2017.
But in an interview with London's Evening Standard, he insisted that the changes he was seeking should be well within the realms of possibility, provided the Prime Minister was prepared to get tough in the negotiations.
"I'm not so pessimistic. I think you could easily. There is no reason why an IGC (intergovernmental conference) to settle all those points shouldn't be done in that space of time. I think it could be done," he said.
He added: "If you don't go in hard to the tackle, you are never going to come out well. You've got to go in hard and low."
While many Conservatives believe that Mr Johnson is preparing the ground for his own leadership bid after next year's general election, he insisted he was committed to supporting Mr Cameron.
"When Dave steps down in 2030 or so, I will be too old. There'll be a very wide field, probably including babies yet unborn," he said.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, however, warned that, behind his shambolic public persona, Mr Johnson is "a really, really ambitious politician" who is "absolutely fixated" on his own prospects for power.
"He treats his political ambition a bit like he treats his hair. He wants everyone to think that he doesn't really care, but he actually really, really does care," the Liberal Democrat leader said on his LBC radio phone-in.
"His tousled hair, his bumbliness, his humour, all of that is great... all I am saying is behind all of that is someone who is absolutely fixated with his own political ambitions. In that sense, he is actually a very conventional politician."
He said that once Mr Johnson was back on the national stage, he would face far greater scrutiny than he had as mayor.
"In a sense, being a mayor is great, a wonderful position to have, but you can kind of have your cake and eat it. You can sort of lob grenades into the political debate without having to take responsibility for stuff," he said.
"At some point he is actually going to have to say 'I'm going to do responsible stuff, I've got to take difficult decisions'."