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Analysis

Boris’ resignation speech lays bare Brexit breakdown

by Luke Lythgoe | 18.07.2018

Boris Johnson used his resignation statement in the House of Commons to slam Theresa May’s Chequers plan and insist on a return to the “bright certainties” of the Brexit vision originally laid out in her Lancaster House speech. But neither plan – nor any of the alternatives out there – will work, or find an enthusiastic majority in Parliament to support it. All the ex-foreign secretary’s speech has done is laid bare the extent of Brexit fragmentation across Westminster.

Johnson’s demand to turn the clock back to Lancaster House is perverse. It’s as if he’s not been paying attention for the last year and a half, as the unworkable red lines laid out by May in January 2017 have been systematically and uncompromisingly rejected by the other 27 EU countries. Presumably the “positive, self-confident approach” Johnson is advocating amounts to not taking no for an answer. In which case there would be no deal, and the country would slide into chaos.

There are plenty of fantastical, even arrogant, assumptions at the heart of Johnson’s Brexit. The idea that the problem of the Irish border is “readily soluble” and it should not “dominate the debate”. The idea that there’s plenty of time to change tack and pursue a new Brexit agenda. There’s being positive, and then there’s being delusional.

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Much of Johnson’s speech stuck the boot into May’s Chequers plan – the prevailing unworkable Brexit proposal in Parliament right now. It would make us rule-takers, he said, “half-in, half-out”, following the adjudication of the ECJ but with no influence, and amounts to “volunteering for economic vassalage”. He’s quite right about this. And the powerful group of Brextremist Tories, many of whom cheered Johnson on today, showed their ability to wreck May’s plan on Monday. Pro-European Conservatives don’t like it either – Justine Greening called it a “worst of all worlds” proposal.

The other Brexit option that fell short in Parliament this week was the soft version whereby we stay in a customs union with the EU. The government defeated that last night, although only by six votes and after “appalling behaviour” by the government whips, including warnings that potential rebels would be letting Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street.

There’s another Brexit ruse out there, quietly going under the radar. The likes of Michael Gove and Liam Fox seem to think they can get any old Brexit deal now and change it once we’re out. Their fellow Brexiters’ contempt for this strategy became clear when Johnson attacked it head on in his statement, calling it “nonsense” and warned that in negotiations like these the “supposedly provisional becomes eternal”.

So that’s four different Brexit blueprints just within the Conservative Party. All are unworkable in some way and none is very popular. Brexit is a big deal. It’s not something that should be pushed through parliament with the most marginal of majorities, by an assortment of blinkered and bullied MPs putting their party before their country. And that’s if, come an expected “meaningful vote” on the final deal in autumn, it can get through Parliament at all. By now there is only one option that makes sense – taking the biggest decision in generations out of the hands of squabbling politicians and putting it to a People’s Vote.

Edited by Quentin Peel

One Response to “Boris’ resignation speech lays bare Brexit breakdown”

  • It is extraordinary that Boris has not understood something fundamentally British about Britain. We are the nation that invented clubs. We all know that when you join a club you agree to be bound by the rules. We also know that if you decide to leave a club you not longer need to obey those rules. No-one would expect the club to change its rules just because you left and you would look a bit daft trying to persuade the club to change its rules after you left. Boris and his mates in the media have never understood Barnier’s message that whatever we agreement we negotiate must be compatible with the club rules. Like Colonel Blimp, Boris seems to think that if only we speak louder, these dim foreigners will change the rules. They won’t.