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Analysis

Don’t panic, says Corporal Johnson. But Boris is panicking

by Hugo Dixon | 08.06.2018

Boris Johnson is prepared to compromise over the time it takes to reach hard Brexit, but not the destination. Still, he’s not confident of achieving his goal even in the long run.

That’s the main takeaway from a leaked recording of the foreign secretary’s remarks to Tory activists on Wednesday night, published by BuzzFeed.

Johnson’s comments raise again the question of how long he can stay in the Cabinet. He said it was “folly” that the government was allowing the Northern Ireland “tail to wag the dog”. Wonder how his boss feels about the implication that she’s foolish.

The foreign secretary also predicted a more “combative” phase of the Brexit talks which could lead to “meltdown”. Sounding like Lance Corporal Jones in Dad’s Army, he added: “I don’t want anybody to panic during the meltdown. No panic. Pro bono publico, no bloody panic. It’s going to be all right in the end.”

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Johnson’s most revealing remark was his warning that Britain could be “locked in orbit around the EU, in the customs union and to a large extent still in the single market,” without “full freedom on our trade policy, our tariff schedules, and not having freedom with our regulatory framework either.”

He added: “Unless you make the change, unless you have the guts to go for the independent policy, you’re never going to get the economic benefits of Brexit. You’ll never get the political benefits of Brexit.”

The foreign secretary is right. The so-called “backstop” proposal for the Irish border published by the government yesterday was initially billed as a victory for David Davis, another hard Brexiter.

When the Brexit secretary threatened to resign because of fears we would be stuck in perpetual limbo, Theresa May agreed to add a line saying the UK “expects” the backstop to end by 2021. But quizzed on her way to the G7 summit in Canada, the prime minister twice refused to give cast-iron guarantee that the deadline won’t slip.

May is dishonest even saying she “expects” a new customs arrangement to be ready by end-2021. The Cabinet can’t decide between two rival schemes, neither of which is viable in any case.

It’s not just the deadline that will slip. As I wrote for InFacts yesterday, the prime minister will also have to agree to be a rule-taker, accept European Court of Justice jurisdiction and pay money into the EU’s budget before she can get a deal on the backstop.

Johnson will be unhappy. Patriotic pro-Europeans won’t like “losing control” either. All the more reason for the people to get vote on what is likely to be a really miserable deal. Perhaps it’s time the foreign secretary joined the campaign.

3 Responses to “Don’t panic, says Corporal Johnson. But Boris is panicking”

  • It is now known that Boris only backed Leave at the last minute in 2016, presumably on the bet that they would narrowly lose, and he could then have positioned himself as the front-man for a second charge in a future EU referendum. This is a similar tactic to that used by Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP after the 2014 Scottish Independence referendum, where the re-alignment in Scottish politics from Left Vs Right to Yes Vs No as a result of the divisiveness of that referendum, allowed the SNP to gain thousands of votes from disappointed Yes voters and thus all but wipe-out the 3 pro-UK parties in Scotland in the 2015 General Election. Personally, I feel that Boris made a similar calculation, hoping that, if Leave lost, he could become Tory leader, and ride a wave of disappointed Leave voters into No. 10, Downing Street. Perhaps now, given the mess that Brexit is turning into as a result of the Leave campaign’s dishonest promises crashing into reality, Boris is starting to think that he made a wrong, potentially career-killing choice in 2016, and is starting to panic. His dreams of being PM may turn-out to be just that – dreams.

  • “Corporal Johnson?” – even by Dad’s Army standards that is a massive over-promotion for the dishonest, loud-mouthed slob.

  • I with journalists and interviewers would press Johnson to provide the detail of the
    “…the economic benefits of Brexit” and exactly why these incredible boons cannot be won if we remain in the EU. Perhaps we could set Richard Madeley on the task.

    Bojo’s only interest is Bojo. He would be an arch remainer if he had thought that would give him a better shot at being PM back when this nonsense all started. The man is a charlatan and very dangerous for the well-being of British citizens who will bear the brunt of the job losses, reduced disposable income and home repossessions that will never affect the likes of Mr Johnson, but afford them rich pickings after.