Political reporter Michael Crick was broadcasting live on Channel 4 News as Johnson launched the official Vote Leave campaign for the 23 June referendum.
Crick began delivering a piece to camera midway through Johnson’s speech, in which the Tory MP dismissed David Cameron and other supporters of Britain’s membership of the EU as “Gerald Ratners of modern politics” – who admit the EU is “crap” but insist there is no alternative.
The remark was a reference to notorious comments by the jewellery chain owner in 1991 when he described one of his own products – a £4.95 sherry decanter and six glasses – as “total crap”.
“Can someone go and interrupt Crick at the back there?” asked Johnson, as Crick’s voice rose above his own in the old Granada Studios in Manchester.
One of Johnson’s fans duly obliged, marching up to Crick and asking him to pipe down.
“The guy’s trying to talk, you’re interrupting,” said Spencer Radcliffe, before blocking the camera with his fleece-clad torso. Afterwards, the unemployed welder said: “I just didn’t like his attitude. It was total ignorance.”
Another man in a pinstriped suit heckled Johnson and ordered him to do his tie up properly: the London mayor duly obliged. Someone else, sporting a Bernie Ecclestone bowl-cut, asked Johnson for haircare tips.
Johnson was challenged on Vote Leave’s claim that the UK’s £350m weekly contribution to the EU could be spent on the NHS if the UK voted to leave.
The BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg pointed out that much of that figure is actually spent in the UK, accusing him of “not being completely straight with the public”.
She was booed, as Johnson conceded that some money did come back to the UK, albeit allocated by EU officials. But he insisted that much UK money vanished “into the wide blue yonder. It literally goes up in smoke in the form of tobacco subsidies to Greek tobacco growers, or funds Potemkin olive groves”.
Johnson’s speech boasted that Britain was now exporting UK-built bicycles to Germany and French knickers to France and indicated that trade would continue even if the UK left the EU.
“I ask you – would the Germans discriminate against our bicycles, if they thought we would discriminate against their BMWs?” he asked, to peels of laughter.
“I know it must be maddening for the French to see British-made saucy knickers in their shops – but would they discriminate against our knickers if they thought we would discriminate against their champagne? Of course not, so let us say knickers to the pessimists and the merchants of gloom and do a new deal that will be good for Britain and good for Europe.”
Johnson’s light-hearted remarks were designed to address one of the potential weaknesses at the heart of the Brexit campaign – the perception that membership of the EU, for all its imperfections, is the safest option for the UK.
Johnson told the rally: “You know the most depressing thing about the campaign to Bremain? It is that there is not a shred of idealism.
“Not a single one of them will stand up and admit that it is political. No one will say: ‘You know what, I love the idea of a federal Europe’, because that is the true logic of their position.
“But that is not what they say – oh no. They keep saying that they are Eurosceptics, but we have no choice. We agree with you about the democratic problem, they say – but it’s the price we have to pay.”
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