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Boris Johnson’s moon article is loony

by Jonathan Spink | 22.07.2019

Britain’s probable next prime minister has shown a fundamental misunderstanding of intricacies of the moon landing 50 years ago. That’s not surprising given his understanding of Brexit.

Boris Johnson used what is probably his last Telegraph article before becoming prime minister to summon up the “can-do spirit” that enabled the 1969 moon landing to solve the Irish border question: “We can come out of the EU on October 31, and yes, we certainly have the technology to do so. What we need now is the will and the drive.”

The problem with the Irish border was never one of spirit, but of practicality. The Irish border has over 200 crossings and is just under 500 km long. Johnson wants to pull the UK out of the EU’s single market and customs union. That means there would be different tariffs and product standards in different parts of the island of Ireland. What’s more, the UK may have different trade deals than the EU. For example, it may decide to import chlorine-washed chicken from America.

So the challenge is to make sure that nothing passes from Northern Ireland into the Republic of Ireland unless it conforms to EU standards and trade deals – but to do this without any checks or infrastructure at the Irish border. And Johnson’s solution? Perform the checks away from the border.

Well, maybe. But we certainly don’t have the technology to do this now. “We looked at every border on this Earth, every border the EU has with a third country – there’s simply no way you can do away with checks and controls,” Sabine Weyand, the European Commission’s former deputy chief Brexit negotiator and now its trade boss, said in January. While she said a solution could be possible, it could take years to achieve.

Now look at the moon landing. The project took eight years to complete and required around 400,000 staff, coincidentally around the same number of all full-time UK civil servants in all departments. So if that’s a good analogy, we’ll have a solution to the Irish border by 2027 and our entire civil service will do nothing else until then.

Johnson also said: “If they could use hand-knitted computer code to make a frictionless re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere in 1969, we can solve the problem of frictionless trade at the Northern Irish border”. Many have pointed out that reentry into the earth’s atmosphere was not frictionless. 

Becoming prime minister is one more small step for Johnson, but one giant leap back for 66 million Brits.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

4 Responses to “Boris Johnson’s moon article is loony”

  • The withdrawal agreement makes it clear that if and when “alternative arrangements” for the Irish border were to be negotiated the need for the backstop would disappear . Indeed everyone knows that the EU do not want the backstop and would work hard to avoid its ever being needed. So if Boris & Co. really think that alternative arrangements are readily available why on earth have they wrecked the prospect of attaining the brexit they crave while also threatening peace in Ireland by opposing the backstop?

  • Why do Johnson the continuing honour of tackling his falsehoods here, instead of just listing them as reference material to give him a hard time later? Those Brexiteers who need this information won’t be interested, as they enjoy Johnson’s joking jousts with the truth.

  • The irony, of course, is under the idiot-in-chief, Trump the US now has a policy of YOYO…your on your own towards British shipping un the Persian Gulf! The US will not be providing naval protection.

    Britain now has to turn to a European maritime protection mission. Yes, this is not part of the EU as such. However, given the hard anti-European rhetoric towards anything European from many leading Brexiters, this situation would be highly comedic if it were not so damn serious.

  • I wouldn’t expect much technical knowledge from an Old Etonian with a second class degree in classics, but Johnson disappoints even by that standard.

    However his frictionless re-entry theory might be quite apt. After achieving a frictionless re-entry a spacecraft would hit the ground at near orbital velocity, with a probable outcome similar to that predicted for his Brexit plans.