It was not just the persistently overcast skies – a weather pattern once dubbed the “Brabant gloom” by Roy Jenkins, a former European commission president – that made working in Brussels for the Daily Telegraph in the early 1990s a joyless experience. It was my role as deputy to Boris Johnson, then “bureau chief” in name but solo performer in practice, that ensured my first job as a foreign correspondent was a trial of endurance.
There were just the two of us in the Telegraph office, and we were working long hard hours reporting on the political and economic convulsions of the Maastricht treaty negotiations. The story itself, of negotiations that played out in meeting rooms of Brussels, was full of political intrigue and drama. And whatever happened was likely to shape Europe for years to come.
How Johnson wrote about it, though, not only alarmed me at the time but helped set in stone a pervasive anti-European narrative that never really encountered serious challenge in the UK. For shamelessly painting the European commission as an insanely grandiose and imperialist body, he was rewarded by flurries of “herograms” from our editor, Max Hastings, including one that read “we all think you’re doing a wonderful job if only you’d learn to be a little more pompous”. Johnson’s trajectory to the gates of Downing Street had begun.