Boris Johnson strongly made the case for Turkey to be admitted to the EU and said he could not wait for the "great moment" when the two halves of the Roman Empire "are at last reunited in an expanded European Union" in a documentary he made for the BBC.
Before he became mayor of London, Johnson, who is now campaigning for Britain to leave the EU and says he supports tougher controls on migration into the UK, made an impassioned case for Turkey to be admitted to an enlarged EU in a 2006 film named The Dream of Rome.
"I believe our generation has a historic chance not just to reunite the two halves of the Roman Empire, but to build a bridge between the Islamic and the Christian worlds," he said in the documentary, which compares the EU to the Roman Empire.
Turkey's relationship with the EU is now under enormous strain due to the influx of millions of Syrian refugees into the country and its status as a stop on the migration route from the Asia to Europe.
Leading British Eurosceptics this week queued up to attack a deal between the EU and Turkey, which promised visa-free travel throughout the EU for Turkish citizens in return for tough border controls on refugees heading to Europe. Conservative MP David Davis complained the EU had been held "to ransom" by Turkey, while Nigel Farage said Turkey had "blackmailed" the rest of Europe.
Johnson, whose great-grandfather was briefly minister of the interior in the Ottoman Empire, remained quiet. He has been accused of jettisoning his old views in favour of a career-advancing position as a leading anti-EU figure.
Writing in The Sun last week, the London mayor said it was time to "back control of our borders and end uncontrolled immigration" and leave the EU. But in his documentary he backed expanding the EU to include Turkey, which would have allowed 70 million Turks access to European institutions and the freedom to access the rest of the EU.
"The crowning irony is those who would keep the Turks out, on the grounds that they are un-European, would thereby disbar the city that for a thousand years was the heart of the Roman Empire and which preserved our European civilisation," he said in the 2006 film.
"What are we saying if we perpetually keep Turkey out of the European Union just because it’s Muslim? First, it’s a denial of the huge achievements of men like Kemal Ataturk who created a secular Westernising country that just happens to be populated by Muslims; it sends out the worst possible signal to moderates in the Islamic world, saying that we can’t incorporate such a country into Europe.
"And thirdly, are we really saying about ourselves and about Europe that it must be forever conterminous with nothing but Christendom? Well, try going to Bradford and saying that."
Johnson said the main problem with the Roman Empire was the same as that faced by modern Europe: "how to deal with the people who yearned to come in".
The Conservative politician warned that the Roman Empire collapsed when "it didn't recognise people's very strong desire to be governed by their own nation state in their own language group" and insisted the failure of the pan-European Roman Empire was a "cultural catastrophe" resulting in people losing their "confidence and sense of proportion".
Johnson finished the two-part series by concluding that people would always try to unify Europe: “It may be that our grandchildren or our great-grandchildren will create the dream of Rome. If history teaches us anything, it’s that people will never stop trying."