Brexit is dividing one of Britain’s most prominent political families

A father and son divided.
A father and son divided.
Image: Reuters/Peter Nicholls
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Britain’s vote on whether to leave the European Union this Thursday (June 23) is not just dividing the country. It’s tearing up entire families, too.

Among them, the Johnson family, one of the country’s most prominent political clans with ties to the Conservative Party (itself a party deeply torn between Eurosceptic and pro-EU MPs).

The uninhibited Boris Johnson is the former Mayor of London and arguably the foremost campaigner for Brexit. He has made his feelings on the bloc abundantly clear: back in May, he compared it to the expansionism of Napoleon and Hitler’s Third Reich:

The whole thing began with the Roman Empire. I wrote a book on this subject, and I think it’s probably right. The truth is that the history of the last couple of thousand years has been broadly repeated attempts by various people or institutions—in a Freudian way—to rediscover the lost childhood of Europe, this golden age of peace and prosperity under the Romans, by trying to unify it. Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this out, and it ends tragically.

The EU is an attempt to do this by different methods. But fundamentally what it is lacking is the eternal problem, which is that there is no underlying loyalty to the idea of Europe. There is no single authority that anybody respects or understands. That is causing this massive democratic void.

Contrast this with the views of his father, Stanley Johnson, a former Conservative Member of the European Parliament and onetime employee of the European Commission:

I don’t think the European project deserves to be dismissed out of hand. Yes, there is a lot wrong with the EU, but nothing in my view that determined engagement on the part of Britain and other like-minded states cannot put right. So I disagree with the Brexiteers—including Boris. I think, instead, that we should remain in the EU and fight for change.

The youngest of the Johnson siblings, Jo, a Conservative MP and minister for universities, is in agreement with his father. Writing in the Guardian today (June 20), he warned students against a “leap into the dark,” asking:

Are your future job prospects brighter inside the world’s biggest free-trade zone, or under the cloud of uncertainty that would surely follow a British exit from the EU?


A tight race.
A tight race.
Image: YouGov

Also backing Britain’s membership of the EU is middle sibling Rachel, a journalist who was onboard the remain campaign’s flotilla during a bizarre face-off between the two sides on the River Thames last week. (Nonetheless, she’s said that she thinks Boris’s campaign has been “brilliant”.)

Which of the Johnson family will be celebrating on Friday is anyone’s guess: the latest indications from political research company YouGov suggest that leave’s lead last week has reversed, with the two sides now neck-and-neck in the polls.