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Boris Johnson on Greece Euro-zone Crisis : "They've got to try and keep this thing together"

Politics / Eurozone Debt Crisis Feb 11, 2015 - 06:16 PM GMT

By: Bloomberg


London Mayor Boris Johnson spoke with Bloomberg Television's Betty Liu today about Greece's future, the outlook for the U.K.'s membership in the European Union, concerns over citizens who join Islamic State, and technology in the U.K. He also shared that during his visit, he was mistaken for Donald Trump: "I was walking down, having my photograph taken just yesterday in the street in New York, and a young woman walked by and said, gee, is that Trump?"

On Greece, Johnson said: "I have a hunch 70 percent of the Greek population want to remain in the euro.  The entire Greek establishment wants to remain in the euro.  Everybody in power in Europe basically reckons there's nothing for it; they've got to try and keep this thing together."

When asked about European citizens who have gone to join Islamic State, Johnson said: "They're principally young men, who are alienated, who are disaffected…The first thing to do is to have a serious criminal approach, to surveil them, to make sure that you know what's going on, that you're monitoring their conversations." He noted that anybody who joins is "presumed guilty" when they come back."

On the fad of cycling, Johnson said: "I cycle very slowly on my bike.  I cycle at about the speed of an elderly French onion seller.  I don’t break the sound barrier and it doesn’t do much for my weight. But it makes you feel good.  Anybody thinking of taking up a bike, it makes you feel good.  When you arrive at meetings, you are in an irritatingly good mood and full of ideas."

BETTY LIU:  As we have been hearing, it is crunch time in Europe today with two big meetings to discuss the future and fate of major concerns for the continent.  A peace agreement between Russia and Ukraine and what to do about Greece's bailout.

So on that, you might have heard him in the background.  I want to bring in my guest for this half hour, the long serving mayor of London, Boris Johnson.  As I mentioned, a native New Yorker, author of the most recent book, which he just signed for me, "The Churchill Factor".  I'm going to get one -

BORIS JOHNSON:  Well remembered.

LIU:  Yes.  So Mayor, great to see you.

JOHNSON:  Glad to see you, Betty.

LIU:  This morning, I know you're on a tour, a six-day tour here of the U.S. 

JOHNSON:  We are.  We are here to talk about London and New York and the investments that we're trying to attract to London.  With some success, I'm proud to say.

LIU:  Oh good.

JOHSNON:  American companies want to come and expand in our city and that's  very, very encouraging.

LIU:  I'm glad to hear that.

JOHNSON:  We're talking up the advantages of coming to live and work in London.  Because your place is absolutely full, positively, with British talent.  I can't believe it.  What's going on?

LIU:  You know what?  We just hired them today just to be with you, and then they're all gone tomorrow. 

OK, so Mayor, we're going to get, by the way, to the technology investment in London.  But, first, I got to ask you about Greece.  So you've been highly critical of the bailout.  You said Greece should never have joined the euro in the first place.  But it's all too late.  What to do now?  What do you think is the best solution?

JOHNSON:  That's right.  Well, I think it's very difficult.  Because the real opponents of being nice to the Greeks and allowing them more loans and all the other lender countries taking a big haircut, as they say, are not just the Germans, but all those southern European countries, the Spanish, the Italians, the Portuguese, who have been through this mangle themselves.  And they think if we bear out the Greeks now, what's that going to say about the policies we've been pursuing all the -- or what we have told our electorates about us being unable to do anything else?  And so that's the real issue.  If you give too much to the Greeks, then there will be a knock on effect in the politics of all the other countries.

LIU:  So let them hang themselves? 

JOHNSON:  Well, the trouble is the alternative is possibly that you could get a Greek exit from the euro.  And that would itself have a huge contagious impact.  And I don't think, myself, there is any way you can insulate a Greek exit, a Grexit, from the -

LIU:  From the rest of the eurozone.

JOHNSON:  No, no, no.  Because we saw in the collapse of the ERM in 1992 and previous experiments with linking the currencies, when one goes, they all tumble out.  And I think if you unpick the bundle of wool, as it were, the whole thing will unravel. 

LIU:  So essentially you're all in it together.  Right?

JOHNSON:  I think so.  My basic hunch is -- I have a hunch . 70 percent of the Greek population want to remain in the euro.  The entire Greek establishment wants to remain in the euro.  Everybody in power in Europe basically reckons there's nothing for it; they've got to try and keep this thing together .  So I think they'll try and do a deal with Tsipras.  I think they'll try and make an arrangement with -

LIU:  A bridge loan?

JOHSNON:  I think they'll shell out.  Some will, all the other -- I mean, I can't tell you exactly how it will be done, but I think that if I were sitting in Athens' place, I think I would feel my negotiating position was pretty strong. 

LIU:  But if you were in Germany and you are reading and seeing these comments coming out from (INAUDIBLE), from Merkel and others --

JOHNSON:  You mean the hardline stuff? 

LIU:  Right.  I sense the opposite.  I mean, is that just posturing ahead of a meeting?

JOHNSON:  It's negotiation.  It's a negotiation.  I think it's a very different situation but I think there's going to be -- the way these euro things end is a huge amount of fudge all over the floor.  That's what's going to happen.

LIU:  That's raising some ire within the U.K. and you, yourself, have spoken out about this.  In fact, I think you just wrote a column recently about this, where -- why don't we get on with it?  Why don't we get on with the referendum on membership in the E.U. for the Brits? 

JOHNSON:  Yes, I think it's very important to stress that this referendum, this renegotiation that the British are seeking under David Cameron and the conservatives, is not just the kind of narrow, parochial, xenophobic -- this isn't just a chauvinistic, nationalistic thing.  We think that changing Europe, trying to reform Europe, is a good idea for Europe as a whole.  And the whole area.

LIU:  But not for the U.K.?

JOHNSON:  And for the U.K.


JOHNSON:  Because the eurozone is not the only problem in that area.  You've also got a very anti-competitive regulation coming out of Brussels.  If you had a more, you know, bit of reform, a more pragmatic free-market approach, you might see more growth in that area.  So from the point of view of American investors and the point of view of people who care about what is happening in the eurozone, I think to have a referendum soon to get some change in the E.U. might be a good thing.

LIU:  But why rush it though?  Why rush it?  I mean, couldn't that -- 

JOHNSON:  Because -- I will tell you why.  Because you don't rush it, but you can get the changes you want pretty fast.  You can get an agreement pretty fast.  I think the reason for not delaying is just -- I know these Brussels negotiations.  They go on and on and on and on until the Greek calends (ph), as it were.  And you end up -- 

LIU:  So why not start it now? 

JOHNSON:  You end up with the conclusion you first thought of.  So why not knock it on the head, get some reform, get them to agree.  Less intrusion by Brussels, a self-denying order by Brussels -- a yellow card system to stop the E.U. Commission producing all sorts of unnecessary regulation.

LIU:  But it's on the cards of a British exit from the E.U.?  A Brexit?

JOHNSON:  No, I think that a Brexit, or a British exit, is very unlikely, provided we get a renegotiation which is satisfactory.  I think we will.

LIU:  I want to turn to security.  Because I read several of your columns, your "Telegraph" columns, and one of them in particular right after the Charlie Hebdo attack where you actually took to task some of the British media for being too tight-lipped or tongue-tied when it came to airing the -- or publishing the cartoons of Mohammed, of the Prophet Mohammed.  And one of the reasons, Mayor, is that there is this great fear, right, of who are the jihadists that are lurking in the background? 

So I want to show you just some numbers that we pulled up.  Very surprising to me.  We have had 100 in the U.S. here, about 100 fighters go to join Islamic State.  In the U.K., 600 have joined.  France, 1,200.  The European Union overall, 300 citizens -- I'm sorry, 3,000 citizens gone from Europe to fight with Islamic State.  What are you doing about this?

JOHNSON:  Well, the first thing is to demystify these guys.  They are not some kind of special, spooky cadre or sect of people who are engaged in something we don't understand.  They are basically, many of them, young men, and they're principally young men, who are alienated, who are disaffected.  And they're the kind of kids actually who would get involved in all sorts of criminality if they had a chance.  They're the kind of people who might well get involved in drug gangs or whatever.

The first thing to do is to have a serious criminal approach, to surveil them, to make sure that you know what's going on, that you're monitoring their conversations or -

LIU:  Well, you said anybody who joins is presumed guilty. 

JOHNSON:  Correct.  Well, when they come back.

LIU:  When they come back, presumed guilty. 

JOHNSON:  Absolutely.  Presumed guilty.

And the second thing is to engage with their communities and to be in there and say, look, this stuff is nonsense.  And obviously encourage the Muslim leaders to show that it's intellectually complete nonsense to think that this has anything to do with Islam and so on.  They must be fortified in that critique of what's happening. 

But it is very, very important to recognize, if you have a bad approach, a very tough criminal justice approach and outreach, you can deal with it.  Now, it involves a lot of work; it involves a lot of police work, a lot of surveillance.  But I think, if I may say, I have been slightly struck by some of the commentary I have seen in American politics about parts of Britain, as it were, being no go zones.  That is complete nonsense.  I mean, really, (INAUDIBLE). Some of these people who are saying  this are in need of gentle education about -

LIU:  Gentle or maybe?

JOHNSON:  No, no, no.  Genial education about what it is like in our cities.  And I invite all these people who speak of no-go zones to come to London; I will happily take them around and show them -

LIU:  And show them that there are no no-go zones.

JOHNSON:  No no-go zones.  And London is a fantastically integrated city.  The whole thing is jumbled up.

LIU:  And you met with our NYPD Police Commissioner, Bill Bratton, right? 

JOHNSON:  I'm about to. 

LIU:  You're about to.

JOHNSON:  I've met him several times before, yes.

LIU:  OK, so what would you like to learn from -- are you going to share intel?  Where do you exactly -- ?

JOHNSON:  Well, the thing that interests me is how you monitor a substantial number of people in a community like New York.  And obviously New York does not have exactly the same type of problems that London has; it has a variety of different problems.  We share many characteristics as great cities.  London and New York have hugely mixed populations, we have the same kind of socioeconomic diversity.  To be fair, I'm going to put it out there, we've managed to get our murder rate down to about -- under 100 for the first time in 40 years.  New York's is coming down fast, too. 

LIU:  But not as fast.

JOHNSON:  No, no.  It's coming down fast but there's a big difference.  I think New York is about 400 deaths a year, or 380 murders a year.  And the reason for that, in my view, is gun crime.  And there is a big difference in our attitude to guns. 

LIU:  And our attitude to gun control here. 

JOHNSON:  Yes.  So but -- on the surveillance of possible malefactors, I'm very interested to hear what Bill has to say. 

LIU:  All right, Mayor, stay with me.  We're going to talk much more.  We will talk about the technology industry and how it's blooming in London with the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. 

And coming up, you've heard of Silicon Valley, but what about Silicon Roundabout?  As I mentioned, the home of London's tech center.  We'll have more from the city's mayor.  That is next.


LIU:  And London, like New York, has always been an expensive city to live in.  Office rents are set to jump 17 percent this year, up to 650 pounds, and that is $1,000 a square meter.  They can see rates falling to an all-time low in some areas.  Competition for good office space is intensifying.

Well, the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, back with me.  And as I mentioned, Mayor, that you are out here promoting London's tech scene.  But when you hear rents are up 16 percent --

JOHNSON:  Yes, but London is changing fast.  And what we're doing is we're putting in the mass transit, the new railways, the upgrades of the tube system, that will enable anybody to come and live in parts of the city where rents are fantastically affordable.  Actually, if I --

LIU:  So the outer skirts. 

JOHNSON:  Not the outer skirts.  What's happening with our city is that it's moving east.  So there are big, big chunks of London that are now being opened up for development, for renovation, for regeneration.  And they are wonderfully affordable. 

And, by the way, London now is home to the biggest cluster of tech businesses anywhere in Europe.  And I think I'm right in saying that it's the biggest change to the London economy that we've seen since the industrial revolution.

LIU:  Really?

JOHNSON:  I mean, very huge, huge numbers.  528,000 people now involved in tech. 

LIU:  In tech, OK, but -

JOHNSON:  That's bigger than financial services.  And we've got today with us, on this trip to New York, we've got a huge number of young London tech companies who are looking for partners, looking for investors, and they are growing very, very fast indeed. 

LIU:  You read my mind, because I was going to say that a lot of them are focused on the financial sector.  But back on the housing issue though, or the rent issue, look, 11 million is the population by 2050 in London.  I mean, that's a lot of people crammed in one small space.  How are you going to -

JOHNSON:  Yes, we are bigger than New York now.  We just hit 8.6 million and 1 for the first time since the --

LIU:  But how are going to you build affordable housing? 

JOHNSON:  Well, you can build it and we are building it.  We are building about 400,000 new homes on brownfield sites across the city just in the next for years.  And they will be affordable; they will be within the reach of ordinary Londoners.  And it's vital to get that over that  that is the best solution.  I think that if I was to try to pretend that I can magically reduce the value of everybody's house in London by 30 percent -

LIU:  Wave your magic wand?

JOHNSON:  I don't think that would necessarily be a popular thing to do.  There is a huge amount of equity that people have tied up in their housing.  It's a massive part of the economy.  The answer is to build more, and we can.  And I don't even -- do you have a place in London? 

LIU:  No, it's too expensive. 

JOHNSON:  Your mayor, Mayor Mike, certainly, Mike Bloomberg --

LIU:  He could help subsidize it. 

JOHNSON:  He has several.  (INAUDIBLE).

LIU:  You are going to be meeting with Hillary Clinton a little bit later, is that right? 

JOHNSON:  We are, we are. 

LIU:  OK, so -- by the way, Americans love you.  You know that, right?

JOHNSON:  I don't know about that.  I was walking down, having my photograph taken just yesterday in the street in New York, and a young woman walked by and said, gee, is that Trump?  She said.  So I think there's a certain amount of -

LIU:  Was at the hair? 

JOHNSON:  I don't know what it was; I don't know what it was.

LIU:  OK, so I say that because people look at you here at least as almost a statesman.  And there is all this speculation, you know that, that you have your eyes on the prime minister spot. 

JOHNSON:  Well, I see what you're saying but it's untrue because I'm working very hard to be Mayor of London and to deliver my mandate, which is I think more than a year to run?  Just over a year.

LIU:  But you're standing for election in the U.K. Parliament, right?

JOHNSON:  I'm standing for election because, in the end, that runs out, my time as mayor.  I have to be useful in other ways, and I want to serve the people of Oxbridge and South Ruislip, which I have been doing anyway for the last six years. 

LIU:  All right, we're going to talk more about this and also, Mayor, I know you are a football fan, the American kind.

JOHNSON:  We are.

LIU:  We're going to talk about that in a moment. 


LIU:  Do you love Ferrari? 

JOHNSON:  No, but I used to test drive them.  I used to be the motoring correspondent in GQ Magazine in London. 

LIU:  Oh, nice.

JOHNSON:  I've had many, many good jobs but that was a great job.  I once had a Ferrari and it went like the wind.  It ran out of petrol in the fast lane of the A-40.  Anyway -- 

LIU:  You just drove it to the ground?  You just drove it?

JOHNSON:  Ferraris have no kind of smalltalk.  They went -- when they're in a traffic jam, you can see that petrol gauge going down and down and down. 

LIU:  I wouldn't know.  Well, OK, in the U.S., we're used to saying that the British are coming.  So there is a steady trickle of American exports heading across the pond, as we like to say.  The latest is the Smithsonian.  Last month, they said they're considering opening a new 40,000 square-foot exhibition space in London's Olympic Park.  And, Mayor, you noted that you wanted to make sure that some of the space didn't go to waste after the Olympics, so how do you feel about this?

JOHNSON:  It's incredible.  I love the way you put that graphic up there.  It's an amazing thing that's happening in that part of East London.  We're creating basically a new city in that area, or a new urban district.  There will be tens of thousands of homes, hundreds of thousands of people eventually, and loads and loads of new jobs. 

So what we decided to do after the Olympics was not just have in-field (ph) housing around all those venues, but to create a new dynamic economic center.  And we've got a university coming there, UCL is coming there; great, great world-class London university.  We have the Victoria and Albert Museum is going to build a new outpost there.  And the Smithsonian, which I remember going to when I was tiny, the great, great, really epic Washington institution is going to build its first international -- or we are in discussions --

LIU:  In discussions.

JOHNSON:  Discussions, I should say.

LIU:  Oh, you might have let slip that it's going to happen. 

JOHNSON:  We're in discussions with them.  We're hopeful, but we're in discussions.

LIU:  Right, it is their first international outpost.

JOHNSON:  If it happened, it would be their first. 

LIU:  Well, speaking about a first international outpost, so the NFL, multibillion dollar organization, has for years been playing one international game in London. 

JOHNSON:  I have been to see it; I've been just twice.  I saw the Jacksonville Jaguars.

LIU:  We have photos of you at some of these games, including with Bob Kraft, who by the way just won the Super Bowl.

JOHNSON:  Great -- very nice guy.

LIU:  Did you call him?

JOHNSON:  I must do that. 

LIU:  You should.

JOHNSON:  Job well done winning the Super Bowl, wherever you are.  Yes, that's right.

Well, look, we would love to get an NFL franchise in London.  It has huge support.  You cannot believe -- I mean, I was amazed -- getting the Tube to Wembley on the day of -- that's the Underground, the metro -- on the day of the Super Bowl, the day of the American football match, I could not believe.  There were hundreds of thousands of people.  And not just Americans in London, but Brits who love this game.

LIU:  And do you like the game?

JOHNSON:   I like a game with an oval ball.  I used -- the only game at which I was moderately competent was rugby.  But I can see the brilliance of American football, but I have to admit that rugby is my game. 

LIU:  So how close is London or how close are you to bringing an NFL franchise there?  Is it the Jacksonville Jaguars? 

JOHNSON:  You'd have to talk to the commissioner and you'd have to talk to the NFL.  But I think we're making progress.  And I certainly think there is an excitement -- I certainly think the Jacksonville Jaguars is the franchise that is been most frequently mentioned.

LIU:  Well, they’re playing again in October.

JOHNSON:  Which is fantastic.  And if it happened, it would be massively popular in London.

LIU:  You are a huge cyclist.

JOHNSON:  I’m trying to  be less huge, but cycling doesn’t make much difference to that.  I cycle the whole --

LIU:  There you are.  There’s Boris bikes all around town.  By the way, do we have this BBC footage, guys?  You did this fantastic interview with Jeremy -- there you are, the two of you, you and Jeremy -- laughing off my chair on this.  You and Jeremy Paxman, who’s a famous anchor in the U.K., on so-called Boris bikes.  So we have those here in New York, and you just mentioned huge.  Cycling has now become a big exercise fad. 

JOHNSON:  It’s incredibly important to civilize cities with environmentally friendly ways of getting around.  Encouraging walking, planting trees, making the place beautiful, but cycling is critical to it.  And we’ve seen a massive increase in cycling in London.  We’ve put in those hard (ph) bikes.  That’s in fact a very old-fashioned lethal tandem bike.

LIU:  You’re in the front, right?

JOHNSON:  Yes, I wouldn’t let him do it.  That’s a lethal tandem.  And we are seeing such a demand for cycling that we are having to put in some quite controversial new cycle highways.  And I know that you did this in New York.  And the trick of it really is just to carry the public with you, to get over the importance of making cyclists feel safe.  New cyclists, particularly female cyclists, very often -- we’re looking at the figures -- do feel intimidated by being jumbled in with heavy traffic. 

LIU:  I do.

JOHNSON:  Where you can segregate, where you can create consecrated space cyclists, it’s not a bad idea. 

LIU:  Do you get -- but do you get the whole fad?  Because I believe David --


LIU:  No, listen to this.  So David Beckham, I believe, is on this as well.  Soul Cycle, a fixed, stationary bike.  And you are there and you are tapping it and you are cycling and losing weight.  Do you get this?

JOHNSON:  No, no.  That is beyond me.  But I cycle very slowly on my bike.  I cycle at about the speed of an elderly French onion seller.  I don’t break the sound barrier and it doesn’t do much for my weight. But it makes you feel good.  Anybody thinking of taking up a bike, it makes you feel good.  When you arrive at meetings, you are in an irritatingly good mood and full of ideas.

LIU:  I can imagine.  Soul Cycle, by the way, I mentioned Soul Cycle, because they’re launching their first -- huge here, of course --

JOHNSON:  Is it really?  I don’t know, can’t remember it.

LIU:  But they’re launching their first outpost in London.  So that's why I mention it.

JOHNSON:  OK, well, thank you.  We’ll look out for it.

LIU:  And before we go, I promised you this morning some gifts.

JOHNSON:  You did; that’s very kind of you.

LIU:  You can’t be a good hot-blooded bread without loving a pint, right?  Am I right?

JOHNSON:  Absolutely right.

LIU:  Do you have a favorite pint? 

JOHNSON:  It would be London pride. 

LIU:  OK, all right, there you go.  I read through this research and there’s 1,400 --

JOHNSON:  Without any prejudice to other London ales, beers, stouts.

LIU:  Is this cold?  Here you go.  This is courtesy of our microbrew.  Craft beers are around the United States.

JOHNSON:  My god.

LIU:  This is the latest --

JOHNSON:  It’s imported from Bavaria, it says.


LIU:  Just the box is.

JOHNSON:  Oh, I see.

LIU:  So here you go.  Cheers. 

JOHNSON:  Cheers, thank you so much.  (INAUDIBLE), thank you very much.

LIU:  Cheers to the mayor.  OK, there you go.  Boris Johnson, Mayor of London. 

JOHNSON:  Well, I’m much obliged.  Thank you, Betty.  Thank you.  We’ll have that later.

LIU:  Yes, we will.  Afterwards.

Courtesy of Bloomberg Television

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