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Analysis

Boris Johnson roars back with lies and fantasies

by Sam Ashworth-Hayes | 16.09.2017

Boris Johnson has implied that any suggestion he’s not fully behind Theresa May’s Brexit strategy is from the realm of fantasy. This is also where the foreign secretary has found the policies in his 4,200 word article for the Daily Telegraph.

The crown jewel of Johnson’s fantasies is the lie that we will take back £350 million a week from the EU, a lot of which can be spent on the NHS. This is untrue not just because we never send the EU so much money, although this is what makes the statement a bare-faced lie. It’s not even because around half of what we actually send to the EU comes back to be spent in Britain or is counted towards our international aid target. It’s such a big lie because Brexit will knock the economy so badly that we’ll have less money to spend on our priorities not more.

What about the rest of Johnson’s vision? He wants to tackle the housing crisis, improve our infrastructure, fix our schools, become a tech powerhouse, boost scientific research and build on the strength of our universities.

Some of these ambitions, such as paying for homes, schools, infrastructure and research, will cost money, which we’ll have less of if we quit the EU. Others will be directly undermined by Brexit. Our universities are already suffering a brain drain as EU citizens no longer feel welcome. And does the foreign secretary seriously think that cutting ourselves off from the EU’s digital single market is the way to spawn tech giants?

What’s more, to pretend that EU membership prevents us from investing in homes, schools or infrastructure is outrageous scapegoating. The blame belongs with successive British governments, especially Johnson’s Conservatives.

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The foreign secretary tells us airily that there are “obvious ways” in which Brexit will help tackle the housing crisis. It’s a shame that none made its way into his article. He merely notes that “there may be” ways to simplify planning and floats the idea of taxing foreign buyers before dismissing it as a bad policy. Is this really all he’s got?

Johnson says leaving the EU will mean we won’t be able to pin the blame for our own failings on Brussels. But this is not an argument for Brexit. It’s an argument to stop scapegoating the EU, a practice on which the foreign secretary has built his career.

Johnson has also identified a new scapegoat: “Young people with the 12 stars lipsticked on their faces”, who are “beginning to have genuinely split allegiances”. This phrase has a nasty history. The slur that Catholics’ true allegiance lay with Rome was used to exclude them from British politics.

The foreign secretary knows perfectly well that a person can have more than one allegiance without being any the less patriotic. He himself did not give up his American passport until 2016. The young people marching against Brexit are doing so because they do not want to see Britain weakened by this disastrous mistake. This is the most patriotic motive of all.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

6 Responses to “Boris Johnson roars back with lies and fantasies”

  • With Theresa May due to make a major speech on Brexit in Florence on Friday 22 September, the fourth round of Brexit negotiations, which were due to start on Monday 18 September, have been postponed to Monday 25 September, a few days after the speech.

    At the moment, May and the contenders for her job are posturing for the Conservative Party membership which they will confront at the Conference (1 – 4 October). They need to get through the Conference unscathed.

    By the way with Murdoch’s man, Gove, in the Cabinet May can at least expect an easy ride from “The Sun” and “The Sun on Sunday” which probably explains its editorial–in very bad German and blaming Barnier and Juncker for everything—on 10 September. For some reason the British press did not cover the drubbing the “SoS” got in Germany over this.

    With the Conference finishing on Wednesday 4 October, there is a danger that the posturing could last until the meeting of the EU27 leaders timed for 18 – 20 October. The European Council is meeting over these dates to see whether sufficient progress has been made on the divorce settlement, the Northern Ireland border and the rights of EU citizens in the UK. But will they warm to the UK’s posturing? Probably not.

    It will be interesting to see if the Florence speech continues the posturing (“no divorce settlement, walk away from the talks, etc.”)

    And will the posturing continue throughout the fifth round of Brexit negotiations? These, however, have been thoughtfully timed to start on Monday 9 October, safely after the Conference is over.

  • Zowie! Quick fightback, thanks! I’d pay good money to see a properly refereed debate between Boris and Hugo. You are the James O’Brien of websites.

  • Leave voters are now going to have to decide whom to trust. At the time of the referendum and in the weeks and months afterwards, many of them swore blind the £350m figure was not a lie as it did not include the word ‘promise’. Are leave voters not going to back Johnson to the hilt once more and treat his words as gospel?

    If so, are they going to hold him personally to account (after all, he does appear to be speaking on behalf of the government) if and more likely when this cash fails to materialise?

    As for Mrs may, is she now going to have to slap Johnson down (no pun intended) yet again? If she does, she is widening the already visible chasm within the Tory party. If she doesn’t, she is allowing Johnson to act as a loose cannon and set the agenda when she is supposed to be in charge. A mess, yes. But one many of us saw coming but who were instead dismissed as ‘scaremongerers’, ‘traitors’ and ‘saboteurs’.

    • During a HoC Select Committee session on Brexit, he answered a question. The questioner accused him of just having made the answer up.

      “Yes” was the reply.

      An “ordinary member of the public”, as politicians condescendingly refer to us, admitting a lie to Parliament or one of its committees could expect to face contempt hearings, and a reprimand or worse after apologising.

      But Boris is an Old Etonian Oxford classics graduate, so it’s acceptable?

  • Johnson himself is actually rowing back slightly on the bus.

    We’re now only “taking control” of the £350m, not necessarily having a free £350m to splash around, and he’s only saying “a lot” could go to the NHS.

    For any politician, never mind Johnson, “a lot” or “substantial” mean pretty much anything they like. I mean for me £1K is a lot.