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British Pound Plummets As London Mayor Supports Exit From EU


"A Hurling For Sterling As Boris Backs Brexit." That was the headline on the website of the Financial Times this morning. The translation? The British pound hit its lowest level against the dollar in nearly seven years today. It happened after the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said that he is in favor of Britain's exit from the European Union.


BORIS JOHNSON: There should be no confusion between the wonders of Europe, and holidays in Europe, and fantastic food and friendships and whatever else you get from Europe, with a political project.

SIEGEL: That's Boris Johnson talking to the media yesterday. The U.K. votes on whether to remain in the EU on June 23. British Prime Minister David Cameron has negotiated terms with the European Union to make staying more attractive. Here he is speaking to the Parliament today.


DAVID CAMERON: I'm not standing for re-election. I have no other agenda. I have no other agenda than what is best for our country. I'm standing here telling you what I think. My responsibility as prime minister is to speak plainly about what I believe is right for our country.

SIEGEL: To talk more about this political splint, we're joined by John Curtice, who's a professor of politics at Strathclyde University, and joins us from the BBC in Glasgow. Welcome to the program.

JOHN CURTICE: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: Boris Johnson is a member of David Cameron's Conservative Party. He's now in favor of leaving the European Union. What's so important about Boris Johnson that his remarks moved markets?

CURTICE: It's fairly simple. The truth is that Boris Johnson, although he may just simply be the mayor of London, is in fact the most charismatic politician on both of the Conservative and Labour parties inside the House of Commons. He is well known. He is the best-known Conservative politician apart from David Cameron. And he also has a proven electoral record. He got re-elected as mayor of London in 2008, even though his party was doing badly in the opinion polls. He's demonstrated (unintelligible) ability to get votes personally. And given that above all, what David Cameron was hoping to do was to win over Conservative voters, by having said to them, I've got this renegotiation, I've now improved the U.K.'s position inside the E.U., you can safely vote to remain - with Boris Johnson on the other side, those voters may now be not so easily persuaded by the prime minister.

SIEGEL: Does Boris Johnson appear to be following opinion or leading it in this case?

CURTICE: He's probably taking a bit of a risk. The opinion polls don't agree with each other. Some opinion polls done over the Internet suggest at the moment, we're at about a 50-50 split. Others, however, done by the telephone, suggest that the remain side are ahead by about 59 percent to 41 percent. So however you look at it, Mr. Johnson will be taking on a quite considerable task if indeed he is hoping to push the leave side in the lead. And the truth is that if he fails to do that, he may well be saying goodbye to his chances of becoming the leader of the Conservative Party, an ambition that many feel he still has.

SIEGEL: And what would you say are the main issues, as far as voters in the U.K. are concerned, as to whether to vote to remain in the European Union or to leave the European Union?

CURTICE: The referendum is essentially going to be about four issues. The first is the economy, whether or not the United Kingdom will be better or worse off as an independent country economically. And at the moment, the polls suggest that people are more inclined to think they'll better off inside the E.U. The second key issue is the question of Britain's influence in the world and its security, including things in the security from terrorism. The remain side argue we're better off inside the E.U., and the public tend to agree with them. However, on the other two issues, the first of which is immigration - where the United Kingdom has experienced the highest level of immigration since the Huguenots came over from France in the 17th century - and people are inclined to believe that if we get out of the European Union, immigration will be reduced, and they're very keen on that. And the other issue is sovereignty. It's just simply that some people don't like the fact that as a member of the European Union, the U.K. occasionally has to accept laws and regulations that it didn't want to implement. And those, I think, are essentially the issues around which this referendum is going to fought.

SIEGEL: Professor Curtice, thanks for talking with us today.

CURTICE: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: John Curtice is a professor of politics and senior fellow with the academic research program "The UK In A Changing Europe." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.