Johnson's bluff and bluster does not befit a prime minsterial candidate
In these tumultuous days it’s nice to know that some things remain constant — the sun will rise and set, Boris Johnson will continue to write his lavishly overpaid Monday column in the Telegraph.
With today’s, Johnson breaks the near-complete silence he’s kept since Friday morning, and essentially starts his campaign for the leadership of his party and the country.
Unlike several of his colleagues from the Leave campaigning who have spent the weekend backtracking on every promise in sight, Johnson maintains his blind optimism that everything will come good.
So what exactly has he said? And does it stand up to scrutiny?
On Article 50:
“The only change – and it will not come in any great rush – is that the UK will extricate itself from the EU’s extraordinary and opaque system of legislation…”
This has become a popular refrain across the Conservative Party, who insist that triggering Article 50 can wait for months, buying extra time before the two-year process of actually exiting the EU begins.
Unfortunately, the EU is not singing from the same hymn sheet.
Both Jean Claude Juncker, head of the European Commission, and the EU’s five founding states have made clear the process should begin as quickly as possible.
“It doesn’t make any sense to wait until October to try and negotiate the terms of their departure. I would like to get started immediately,” Juncker said over the weekend.
“It is said that those who voted Leave were mainly driven by anxieties about immigration. I do not believe that is so. After meeting thousands of people in the course of the campaign, I can tell you that the number one issue was control – a sense that British democracy was being undermined by the EU system, and that we should restore to the people that vital power: to kick out their rulers at elections, and to choose new ones.”
Johnson begins by suggesting that immigration wasn’t actually the campaign-defining issue that everyone says it is, but his argument is based on a false dichotomy.
While many Leave voters were motivated by a desire to ‘take back control’, one of the foremost areas they wanted control of was immigration numbers.
And although Johnson promises ‘a balanced and humane points-based system to suit the needs of business and industry’, he gives no detail of how such a policy can be implemented.
Particularly since he insists that Britain will retain ‘access’ to the single market — something no country has done without accepting free movement in return.
On the economy:
“I believe that this climate of apprehension is understandable, given what people were told during the campaign, but based on a profound misunderstanding about what has really taken place. At home and abroad, the negative consequences are being wildly overdone, and the upside is being ignored. The stock market is way above its level of last autumn; the pound remains higher than it was in 2013 and 2014.”
You may think that the continuing slide of both the pound and the FTSE100 is reason for economic concern, but there’s no need. The entire global economy has just become complicit in Project Fear and Britain needs to respond with nothing more than an upbeat attitude.
“There will be a substantial sum of money which we will no longer send to Brussels, but which could be used on priorities such as the NHS. Yes, we will be able to do free trade deals with the growth economies of the world in a way that is currently forbidden.”
Crucially, Johnson does not say that there will be an extra £350m a week available to fund the NHS, because that central Leave campaign claim was fundamentally dishonest.
He also fails to balance the extra funds available with the looming Brexit-induced economic crisis, and with the demands from Cornwall, for example, that the funding its farmers have recieved from Europe be replaced with funding from the national budget.
“We should be incredibly proud and positive about the UK, and what it can now achieve. And we will achieve those things together, with all four nations united. We had one Scotland referendum in 2014, and I do not detect any real appetite to have another one soon…”
The SNP is already laying the legal foundations for a second independence referendum, 59 per cent of Scots now support independence according to polling conducted over the weekend and Sinn Féin is calling for a referendum on Irish reunifcation.
We wonder how Johnson defines ‘real appetite’.
Ultimately, this column is textbook Johnson, arrogance and bluster in place of real analysis.
That may be acceptable from a newspaper columnist, he may even have gotten away with it as mayor of London. But it’s not appropriate behaviour for a British prime minister tasked with steering the country through the most dangerous period of the century.