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Analysis

Boris’s fishy kipper claim guts his whole Brexit argument

by Sam Ashworth-Hayes | 19.07.2019

The conclusion to Boris Johnson’s performance in a recent Conservative leadership hustings was a classically misleading example of Brexiter theatrics. As the UK’s probable next prime minister began his closing argument, he ducked down behind his lectern and reappeared waving a vacuum-wrapped fish, announcing that if the audience “want to understand why it is that we must leave the EU, and the advantages of coming out of the EU, and the ability to take back control of our own democracy and our own regulatory framework, I want you to consider this kipper”.

Johnson declared that the Manxman who had smoked this particular fish was “utterly furious” about EU red tape: “After decades of sending kippers like this through the post, he has had his costs massively increased by Brussels bureaucrats who have insisted that each kipper must be accompanied by this: a plastic ice pillow. Pointless, expensive, environmentally damaging health and safety”.

As a piece of theatre this is undeniably brilliant. As a demonstration of costly EU regulation foisted onto business it is not. There are three crucial flaws in Johnson’s argument. First, the Isle of Man is not part of the EU. Second, the EU does not regulate the ideal temperature of kippers, or indeed set out how any such ideal temperature should be attained. Third, the regulations in question are in fact British.

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Fittingly, these flaws also neatly summarise the gaps in Johnson’s vision of a post-Brexit Singapore-on-Thames. The Isle of Man is a crown dependency. It is not part of the UK, and it is not in the EU. Instead, it enjoys a special relationship with the bloc through a protocol in the UK’s treaties, and sits inside the customs union. While some EU rules do apply to the island, still more EU and UK laws are adopted voluntarily in an effort to secure market access – a process that puts into domestic law standards exporters would have to adhere to anyway. The net result is that, while some sovereignty is lost, free trade in goods and agricultural products is secured.

This trade-off is precisely the situation the UK will face if it ever leaves the EU. For every cost-cutting deregulatory initiative Johnson envisages after Brexit, there will be a corresponding loss of market access. We may well find ourselves voluntarily adopting standards we had no say in setting simply because the benefits of bespoke regulation are outweighed by the costs of divergence. And if we don’t adopt them, our exporters will have to adhere to them anyway.

An EU spokesperson has now debunked Johnson’s fishy tale, explaining that ice-pack provision for Manx kippers is “outside the scope of EU legislation, and is purely a UK national competence”. If Johnson really wants to free up the purveyors of kippers he can put a change in the law on the agenda for the day he takes office. And yet, somehow, I suspect that significantly increasing the risk of food-poisoning for domestic fish consumers will not be high on his government’s list of priorities. 

As a somewhat homesick Manxman myself, I actually had some Isle of Man kippers delivered by post to my office a few weeks ago. A colleague signed for them, left the package in the very warm hallway, and promptly forgot about it. I can therefore, sadly, confirm that the ice pack is definitely necessary.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

16 Responses to “Boris’s fishy kipper claim guts his whole Brexit argument”

  • One has to wonder whether Johnson ever researches anything properly. He banks on the assumption that his hearers ( sadly correctly) won’t investigate anything either, and his charisma will make them believe him anyway. I wouldn’t buy a postage stamp from him as I am sure he would be on to a con, let alone trust him with anything serious. I am sure many in his own party feel the same way.

  • Thjat sums up brexit. Those idiots who voted for it. were done up like a kipper. Johnson and Farage took 17.4 million dummies for ride. They were stupid enough to believe those clowns.

  • I have just heard Steve Barclay comment on what Boris was doing with his version of the truth as “drawing an illustration of a more bespoke approach”! This is very creative…..basically, it allows our politicians to say anything. A later excuse was that it should be taken in the spirit in which it was intended. I agree with that. It was intended, as usual, to mislead and to whip up anti-EU sentiment, based on lies, as he has done for many years and which is responsible for a lot of the misconceptions about the EU. And this oaf will be our leader and represent us in the world!

  • Boris Johnson is entertaining to a certain mindset. I don’t want entertaining by politicians but rather hard discussions about the NHS. housing inequality. funding in schools. Sod the kipper.

  • I think he is pehaps better suited to the entertainment industry, or even journalism, where there is a certain amount of “artistic licence”, and his flowery, or even vulgar use of language, is more of an asset. However, he is totally unsuited to public sector work, where accuracy and attention to detail are paramount. Reading committee reports or governmental documents is not supposed to be entertaining. I think Boris deep down has a fear of being seen as dull or boring, and like typical comedians, uses exaggeration and extremes for full effect.

  • Absolutely right. Boris is in the wrong business. His talents lie in the field of entertainment. But how is it possible that such a man can be considered suitable for the highest office in the land ? What does this tell us about members of the Conservative Party and indeed those Tory MPs who voted for him as leader of the Party ?

  • I marvel at how prepared Brexiteer Brits (well, mostly the English side) are to believe anything negative or bad coming from outside the British borders. Notably from the EU. If anything that Is the clearest expression of the xenophobia that drives Brexit.

  • Boris is a rabble-rouser and a foul liar and has been all his life. The mere fact that he is endorsed by that pink character in the White House is sufficient to call his personality into question. I think IF he wins the race, he is likely to have even a shorter career in No 10 than TM. Once it is obvious what a useless tosser he is, the party that elected him is quite likely to ditch him, especially if it looks like they will lose the next election (virtually certain).

  • Funny how the “kippergate!” story didn’t make such a “splash”(sorry!”) in the media, a perfect example of the incompetence of Boris the Buffoon. God help us in the coming few weeks when he is in charge.

  • Funny how we didn’t learn this lesson when Boris Johnson was taking to court for lying. The Judge May have thrown out the case but the charge still holds. He’s a liar and a cheat. We get the politicians that we deserve.

  • I believe the UK food safety regulation in question requires that fresh, ie non-smoked, fish are packed in ice during transport. As Mr Johnson was waving a vacuum-packed smoked kipper, this regulation would not apply…

    The whole thing suggests to me that the irate Manx fish-exporter may also be a myth: perhaps someone out to make trouble for Mr Johnson, known for disregard of and carelessness in checking facts?

  • The thought of Johnson dealing with the growing crisis with Iran leaves me extremely worried. If he follows Trump and is confrontational with Iran then we could be heading for a war. Who, in their right mind, would trust Johnson to be tactful and diplomatic?

  • The kipper tale is a further example of something for which the Conservatives are well known: the dead cat strategy. Only the politically naive wouldn’t see it.

  • It baffles me how many, otherwise normally sane and commonse-endowed, people are enthusiastic consumers of the aspirational poetry of the Johnson camp, which worryingly reveals a combination of economic illiteracy and political chicanery. It also may partially explain how rogue scam merchants are so successful in their craft!

  • Johnson wouldn’t recognise the truth if it slapped him in the face. That such a nasty and thoroughly dishonest man is about to become prime minister is deeply worrying.