In a deeply confusing article in the Telegraph yesterday, the fellow ex-Etonite, fully paid-up member of the Bullingdon Club and heir-apparent to David Cameron, pleaded with the population to believe that the UK was on course to forge ‘a new and better relationship with the EU – based on free trade and partnership, rather than a federal system.’
In a county becoming ever-more rapidly destabilised socially, politically and economically in the immediate aftermath of the result, it seems that Boris Johnson, who spent months publicly bemoaning and demonising the role that the European Union plays in British public life, did not in fact himself believe that the UK would vote to leave.
As Conservative MP Anna Soubry told Channel 4 News on Saturday:
I don’t honestly believe that he [Johnson] believed what he was saying to people… he didn’t think that they would win.
In his article, Johnson has the gall to accuse SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon of ‘throwing the future of the UK into doubt’ by suggesting that a second Scottish referendum on independence may take place, stating that he does not ‘detect any real appetite for another one soon’. What happened on Thursday was a result of a selfish, politically-motivated gamble that paid off too well, leaving Johnson months away from potentially entering Number 10 whilst jeopardizing the future of the country and the political stability of the rest of Europe.
To blame Sturgeon instead of admitting it was largely his own naked careerism that could lead to the break-up of the union is just another insult to the electorate’s intelligence, to be added to the many lies that were told by Johnson and his cronies during the campaign.
The former mayor of London goes on to claim that post-Brexit there ‘will still be intense and intensifying European cooperation and partnership in a huge number of fields: the arts, the sciences, the universities, and on improving the environment’. This is fluffy language, and not currently falsifiable, but, as pointed out by Martin Kettle, ‘Universities… stand to lose significant income if EU students – including the Irish – are less able to come to the UK to study’.
The flowery imprecision of his piece is further evident in his assertion that the ‘substantial sum of money’ no longer sent to Brussels ‘could be used on priorities such as the NHS’.
There’s a difference between describing an amount of money as ‘substantial’ without making reference to figures, and equally as big a gap between the words ‘could’ and ‘will’.
He goes on to state that Britons will still be able to work in Europe, and yet according to EU law expert George Peretz QC, the Brexit decision:
…throws into serious doubt the rights of UK expats to work in EU countries. Everything depends on the arrangements that the UK enters into with the EU after withdrawal.
Similar doubts arise regarding immigration. According the Centre for European Reform, there are three potential outcomes as to the deal that the UK might be able to strike with the EU.
- The first option is a deal that would see the UK retain access to the single market in return for the free movement of labour, the so-called Norwegian model. The UK would also ‘have to follow single market laws (including labour market rules) without having a vote on them, make substantial payments into the EU budget and accept free movement of labour’. To all intents and purposes, Boris, that option sounds like we might as well have just voted in.
- Another option is the ‘Canada’ option, is a deal which Johnson has praised in the past on many occasions, and involves removing ‘…many but not all tariffs on industrial and farm goods. But it will give limited access to the single market’.
Yet according to the Centre for European Reform:
the UK’s partners are adamant that the price for full access to the single market would be payments into the EU budget and free movement of labour.
- The third option is that the UK joins the World Trade Organisation, ‘trading with the EU on the same basis as Russia and China’.
Given Britain’s limited export market, and the opposition of most of the Britain’s banks and establishment to this plan, this option is perhaps the least likely.
All in all, Boris’s promise that the government would be able to ‘take back democratic control of immigration policy’, as he claims in his article, seems at best misplaced, and at worst a lie.
These are the words of a man unsure of where we are going as a country, reeling from a shock result he never expected to happen. Neither, it seems, did the Vote Leave campaign, whose Twitter and Facebook accounts of the Vote Leave campaign have been silent since June 23rd, the campaign’s website homepage having been wiped.
Being at the forefront of a narrowly defeated Leave campaign would no doubt still have done much to further Johnson’s prospects of replacing Cameron when his term was due to expire in 2020. He never imagined that the result would go his way, and is now desperately trying to save face having realised the magnitude of what he has brought about.
Johnson gambled the UK’s future on Thursday, and won. But was the Brexit camp’s triumph really a win for Johnson? Or was it as some have suggested, a pyrrhic victory, a success so seismic it may end up not being worth it. It could be this miscalculation leads people to question his judgement and actually ends up discrediting him.
Only time will tell. But the implications, for this country and the rest of Europe, are immense.