When Boris Johnson gets wheeled out of cold storage and is given a platform to address the nation, you know it’s time to strap yourself in, grab the popcorn and watch on as politics’ answer to Stan Laurel spews forth.
Bo-Jo was in reassuringly chaotic form this week, telling delegates at a Policy Exchange forum in London that Brexit was not a ‘great big V-sign from the cliffs of Dover’, and in his Valentine’s Day address the Foreign Secretary tried to unite leave and remain voters behind a single vision of a future outside the single market.
That was in amongst his usual rants, tangents and a few ill-judged jokes about organic carrots, which were so subversive there is literally no point in re-printing them here.
Johnson quipped that “….we should have the freedom to retire to Spain, work overseas, go on ‘cheapo flights to stag dos’ and fall in love with foreigners just as easily as now,” in a series of bizarre quips that would have had Tory top brass wringing their hands with embarrassment.
He admitted that he felt helpless in persuading ‘Remainers’ of the merits of Brexit, but said “I have to try. In the end these are people’s feelings and people’s feelings matter.
“We must accept that many [Remainers] are actuated by entirely noble sentiments, a real sense of solidarity with our European neighbours and a desire for the UK to succeed.
“If we are to carry this project through to national success – as we must – then we must also reach out to those who still have anxieties. I want to try to anatomise at least some of those fears and to show….that Brexit is not grounds for fear but hope.”
Bo-Jo Says No No to Second Referendum
Johnson was quizzed by assembled news reporters as to the merits and likelihood of a second Brexit referendum. Those questions were met by a straight bat from the former Etonian.
He said that a return to the polls would be a ‘disastrous mistake that would lead to permanent and ineradicable feelings of betrayal’, while calling upon Leave voters not to ‘gloat’ or ‘sit back in silent satisfaction’.
The modus operandi of the Tories prior to the referendum was the notion of ‘taking back control’, with the ditching of the single market ultimately handing the reins of power back to Downing Street. Johnson spoke of laws ‘imposed from abroad’ being largely irrelevant to British businesses, with UK citizens having no power to either elect or remove the politicians making them.
Bo-Jo’s speech was met with both support and derision from those on all sides of the political spectrum, although his opponents’ views were typically more entertaining.
Chuka Umunna, who heads the Open Britain anti-Brexit campaign, it should be noted, said that Johnson’s speech was ‘an exercise in hypocrisy’, while Labour’s Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said that the government’s intention to cast aside the benefits of the single market were clear for all to see. “Nobody will be fooled or reassured by the foreign secretary’s empty rhetoric,” he suggested.
Even the Conservatives’ own Sarah Wollaston accused the Foreign Secretary of falling foul of ‘optimism bias’.
This is Getting Serious
We are, roughly, one year away from Brexit being fully implemented, with a target date of March 29 being touted.
Next month discussions will commence regarding the transition period, which will be a passage of ‘cooling off time’ as the UK tip-toes out of the single market. Exactly how that will pan out, and for how long, remains to be seen, with Theresa May lobbying for a two-year period of transition and the EU instead demanding a full divorce date of December 31, 2020.
One element that has been sorted is the so-called ‘punishment clause’, which appeared in a draft version of the transition terms.
This called for sanctions on the UK to lose access to elements of the single market if we were to somehow break the Union’s rules during the cool-off period. Ut following an outcry from the UK’s representatives in discussions, standard procedures will be enacted by the EU should we breach trade rules or agreements covering fishing and agricultural quotas.