Boris’s Barack baloney

by Jack Schickler | 22.04.2016

Boris Johnson has worked himself into a righteous lather in a Sun OpEd, accusing the US of being “incoherent”, “inconsistent”, and “downright hypocritical” in suggesting the UK should remain a member of the EU. After all, he says, “the Americans would never contemplate anything like the EU, for themselves or for their neighbours in their own hemisphere. Why should they think it right for us?”

One would hope that before attacking the UK’s main non-EU ally, the anti-EU mayor would make sure to get his facts straight. Unfortunately, he has not.

Contrary to Johnson’s assertions, the United States has often shown commitment to multilateralism. The US dominated the Bretton Woods conference that created the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in 1944; it continues to act closely with both institutions, whether it is on economic assistance to countries in crisis or on global challenges in health, climate change, and so on. The US has freely chosen to pool sovereignty by joining NATO, meaning that it is committed to defending countries such as Poland or Turkey if they are attacked. It is a member of two trade organisations – NAFTA and the World Trade Organisation – which feature supranational courts with the power to rule against the US. To be sure, the United States has registered objections to some international arrangements, just as the UK has opted out of EU agreements such as Schengen. But to accuse Americans of being “incoherent” and “downright hypocritical” in suggesting that the UK should remain in the EU is itself incoherent.

Caricaturing Americans as a sovereignty-obsessed unilateralists is not the only distortion in Johnson’s tirade. In the space of one piece, the mayor notched up five other dubious assertions:

“We have lost control of our trade policy … Can you imagine the Americans entrusting their trade negotiations to a body that comprised only 3.6% Americans?”

Actually, 3.8% of European Commission staff are UK citizens. Further, for the department responsible for trade negotiations, the figure is 5.4%. In the past two decades, three out of eight of the EU’s commissioners for trade – Leon Brittan, Cathy Ashton, and Peter Mandelson – have been British. Within the Council of the EU, Britain has succeeded in having its voice heard: between 2009 and 2015, as LSE professor Simon Hix has told InFacts, the UK voted with the majority in 56 out of 57 trade-related votes.

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“We have been in the EU for 43 years, and we haven’t even been able to do a free trade deal with the US.”

Over the 43 years invoked by Johnson, trade barriers between the EU and the US have been reduced repeatedly through a series of global agreements. Now that progress in trade negotiations tends to come via regional deals, negotiations on further liberalisation are underway between the EU and the US. Whether a UK-US deal could proceed faster is doubtful. The chief US trade negotiator has said that the United States is “not particularly in the market” to do a deal with individual nations.

“If you include both primary and secondary legislation, the EU now generates 60 per cent of all the laws that pass through Westminster.”

Again, Johnson is exaggerating. To generate that 60% figure, one has to count all EU laws, including some that do not apply in the UK, such as those related to the Schengen area.

“We are giving £20bn a year, or £350m a week, to Brussels”

Here Johnson is recycling a familiar Brexit trope that has been repeatedly exposed as wrong. The chair of the National Statistics Authority has described the figure as “potentially misleading”.

“We have lost control of our borders to Brussels”

Wrong again. The UK maintains border controls.

In a further demonstration of his attention to detail, Boris invoked his pro-Brexit Conservative colleague and London MEP, “Sayeed Kamal.”

Boris, it’s Syed, not Sayeed.

And Boris, it’s Kamall, not Kamal.

Oh, and, by the way, Boris sets up his Sun piece with a story of how Winston Churchill’s bust “mysteriously” disappeared from the Oval Office after Barack Obama became president. His speculation that Churchill was “banished” is needless. For those wanting the real story, see the Washington Post, here.

Boris Johnson and Vote Leave did not immediately respond to our request for comment. 

Edited by Sebastian Mallaby

2 Responses to “Boris’s Barack baloney”

  • BoJo is deeply infuriating and I am not sure we should be giving him a profile. With regard to the proportion of British EU staff, we say 3.8% of Commission staff are UK nationals. Of the whole staff, does our proportion reflect that among 500 million people, roughly, we have a population share – which would be about 12%?

    Please bear in mind that Obama has done all he can to wind BoJo and the rest of us up. I cannot be told to vote to remain because America thinks it is a good idea. I have the responsibility for what goes on my ballot paper and it is my opinion that counts.

    Obama went to visit the graves of Americans who died fighting on our side in the World Wars and grateful to them we are. I would have respected him more if he had visited the graves of the British who died between 1914 and April 1917 when the USA was not in WW1 and 1939 and December 1941 when the USA was not in WW2. At that time its foreign policy resembled Obama’s.

  • The hypocrisy of the folk who presume to tell the British public what the US will do, but refuse the President of the US the right to set the record straight.

    And when he does, we are told by the floppy blond Turk that that is due to some ancestral hatred of Britain.

    Best of all is the notion of an all-powerful PM who can get the mighty of this world to do his bidding.

    Time for the Outers to start playing the ball – and try argument rather than invective