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Johnson’s big problem: there’s no “there” there

by Ian Davidson | 27.07.2019

Boris Johnson’s posturing, as he entered Downing Street, has inspired some of his critics with indignation. It seems more reasonable to accept it as a touching if inappropriate display of adolescent dreaming. 

Johnson says he is determined to take the UK out of the EU on October 31, “whatever the circumstances”. Theresa May failed: it must have been her fault. “After three years of unfounded self-doubt, it is time to change the record”. All it requires is bit more shove, more determination from a real leader, ready and able, gimlet-like, to whip out his trusty Webley revolver to show who’s master.

There are two problems with Johnson’s objective. The first is not that it cannot be done. This is not to say that he cannot, in one sense, take the UK out of the EU on October 31. Given the parliamentary arithmetic, it looks at the moment unlikely. But you never know: perhaps he could round up his posse, and on a Brexit manifesto win a new general election – or crash out later after winning a referendum. 

But the second problem is that the Brexiters seem unable to tell us what they say they want, without describing what sounds uncannily like an adolescent fantasy-dream. Naturally, everyone wants “freedom”. But what, exactly, is the “freedom” the Brexiters are offering us? They cannot say. 

They hate the “backstop” part of May’s Withdrawal Agreement. But in Parliament, Johnson was unable to spell out how he would persuade the 27 EU governments to change their minds on that – or what he would put in its place. His only recourse was to tell MPs that he had instructed Michael Gove to prepare for a no-deal crash-out. OK; but what then? 

What, exactly, is the destination after this crash-out? Leaving the EU is not an end-state: it is an extravagant blast-off into an unknown orbit. Even then, the idea that we can, with one bound, escape the gravity-pull of the EU is simply delusional. 

If we are left guessing what is the Brexiters’ destination, or how they would reconfigure our inescapable relationship with our much larger neighbour, it is difficult to avoid the suspicion that they do not know. It may even be because there is no “there” there. 

What is alarming about Johnson’s arrival in Downing Street, is not his comportment, but that his ever-facile declaratory positions cannot be construed into a discernible policy. 

Edited by Hugo Dixon

6 Responses to “Johnson’s big problem: there’s no “there” there”

  • Fact is, that we are even more leaderless than we were a week ago. Sure, there’s a warm body in no. 10, but what is above the neck might as well not be there. Why can Brexiteers not see what leaving will do to us ? It doesn’t take a genius to realise that we will NOT be better off outside than in. The logic, like gravity, is inescapable.

  • “There” for Johnson seems to still be, as it was three years ago, having our cake and eating it. The reality of the past three years appears not to have registered. His problem will be how he sells that. Most others have realised we can’t have our cake etc. “Take back control” coming from a PM elected by 0.1% of the population sounds more than a little unconvincing. What he keeps getting very close to is “Make Britain great again”, but I think even he realises that someone else got (almost) there first and has made that brand toxic.

  • So at what time does the electorate think they’ll start to take back control? Right this moment it has that ominous look of control being in the hands of a fanatic bunch of privateers! Least of all the population.

  • Having built his ambition and career on lies, cheating and fraud, I suspect that events will end badly for this self-obsessed blustering character.