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In Brexit Family Feud, It's Johnson Vs. Johnson

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And when the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, Britain's prime minister said he would resign. And former London Mayor Boris Johnson became the front-runner to replace him. Johnson, we should remember, helped lead the movement for the U.K. to leave, which is awkward for Johnson's brother. Jo Johnson is a member of parliament as well. He campaigned for the U.K. to stay in the European Union. And we asked Jo Johnson about this yesterday.

I have a a little bit of tape here from your brother Boris Johnson making his case, which was a different case than your own, which was the case for Britain to leave the EU. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BORIS JOHNSON: The best thing for us now, 'cause we're a great country, a proud economy, a proud democracy, is to take back control over our borders, over the huge sums of money that we send to the European Union and to take back large amounts of control over our democracy and...

GREENE: Take back control of the borders - I mean, certainly tapping into a lot of concerns about immigration in the country. Do you share those concerns and share the sentiment of your brother that this vote will help the U.K. take back its borders?

JO JOHNSON: Well, I mean, it's no secret that Boris and I were on different sides of what was a very hard-fought referendum campaign. But as I've said, it's time now to move on. It's time to unite. And it's time to deliver on the - what the British public asked us to do, which is to leave the European Union. What I want to ensure we do is that we leave it, and we preserve what's good about our relationship and we make the most of all of the opportunities that arise from the decision to leave.

GREENE: How worried are you that, sort of, the anti-immigrant sentiment expressed during this campaign will linger and sort of affect race relations and efforts to really create a unity in the country?

JOHNSON: Well, we are getting some anecdotal accounts of such incidents. And they are being dealt with by the police and other relevant authorities where they are. But I think the key thing to remember is that Britain is a diverse society. And we are hugely welcoming. And these incidents are rare, but when they do occur, you know, we must deal with them very, very firmly.

GREENE: You announced that you are going to back your brother's bid for leadership of the Conservative Party, which is your party as well. Many hope that this will lead to him becoming prime minister. Was it a hard decision to decide that you would back him, given you were on different sides, as you say?

JOHNSON: No. I mean, I've no doubt at all that he's the person best-placed, not just to secure a new settlement for Britain in Europe, but also to provide the optimistic, confident and outward-looking leadership that we're going to need more than ever now in months and years to come.

GREENE: I want to ask you one question about his leadership specifically. I mean, he had a bus, and there was a pledge emblazoned on it during this campaign, promising that these 350 million British pounds that go each week to the European Union would be spent on the National Health Service in the U.K. if the vote went in the right way. Nigel Farage, who, you know, was the architect of the Leave campaign, said very quickly that it was a mistake to promise that. Is there a credibility problem here?

JOHNSON: Boris doesn't have a credibility problem whatsoever. He's got a towering record as mayor of London. And he's demonstrated, in that role, you know, that he can lead one of the world's great urban civilizations successfully. He set a big, bold vision for our capital city. He was hugely successful in that role in attracting unprecedented growth and levels of inward investment into the city. He renewed the transport system. He took crime down to record lows. So he's got a substantial body of achievement in government, which I think he can be hugely proud of and which is a great track record for him as he seeks to be prime minister of this country.

GREENE: Jo Johnson is a member of the British Parliament and serves as the minister of state for universities and science. Thanks so much for coming on the program. We appreciate it.

JOHNSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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