Bugger off, Boris
I observed, in this illustrious journal, on 5 March 2016 that, if Brexit succeeded, Boris Johnson could be UK prime minister. Brexit succeeded, Boris did not. Now Boris is being a nuisance.
So much so that Theresa May had this to say at the recent Conservative conference. ‘When we came to Birmingham… some big questions were hanging in the air. Do we have a plan for Brexit? We do. …Can Boris Johnson stay on message for a full four days? Just about.’
Theresa May called an early election in the hope of wiping out Labour under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, and giving the Conservatives five years to consolidate a post-Brexit UK. She failed in the first but succeeded in the second. The good news is that Labour is still stuck with Corbyn and that the UK is still exiting.
Without the hoped for thumping majority, however, cabinet discipline is paramount. Boris does not get this. As Foreign Secretary, Boris penned an essay for the Telegraph (UK) on 15 September, setting out his vision for Brexit. It was a vision not shared by his cabinet colleagues. Boris is not a team player; unless he changes, Boris can no longer be part of the team.
The Prime Minister addressed the EU, in Florence, on 22 September. The speech was not startling, but it contained some clear guidelines as agreed by cabinet. The UK government is at the beginning of a two-year negotiation, and more, and Europe is in turmoil. The UK has time to work on its negotiations.
May reminded European leaders that Britain’s Royal Navy, National Crime Agency and Border Force were helping the Italians save the lives of boat people in the Mediterranean. She reminded leaders that the UK has the biggest defence budget in Europe, a widespread diplomatic network, and world-class security, intelligence and law enforcement services.
She reiterated that Brits voted for ‘more direct control of decisions that affect their daily lives; and that means those decisions being made in Britain by people directly accountable to them.’ This was a big dig at the European project, indeed, a call to arms for citizens in European nations to topple the whole damn exercise.
She reminded leaders that the UK would not accept any physical barrier at the border of Northern Ireland, and that European nationals could carry on living their lives as before, but under UK law. Any UK judge was welcome to take into account European interpretations, no government could stop them, unless and until specific UK laws made such interpretations redundant.
May wants to avoid a free trade agreement. She wants something that lies between the benefits of European Economic Area membership and a free trade agreement. She proposed a shared dispute resolution mechanism for trade, and a treaty for future security, law enforcement and criminal justice co-operation.
Crucially, although the United Kingdom will cease to be a member of the European Union in March 2019 she proposed an ‘implementation period’ of as much as two years in which access to markets should continue on current terms and Britain also should continue to take part in existing security measures.
The framework for this strictly time-limited period, which could be agreed under Article 50, would be the existing structure of EU rules and regulations. For example, it would take time to put in place the new immigration system required to re-take control of the UK’s borders.
May promised that the UK would honour commitments made during the period of membership, and she indicated that the UK wanted to make a contribution to cover the UK’s share of the costs involved in those specific policies and programs such as in the promotion of science, education and culture.
The May speech was a sign of significant progress. It was not a soft Brexit pamphlet. Boris, however, not satisfied with progress at cabinet had to have his own agenda.
The Boris essay in the Telegraph on 15 September was good fun, in a campaigning sense, and when it stuck to the reasons why UK wanted out. He reiterated that Brits were sick of being told by European officials how to live their lives.
He wrote, ‘I look ahead… at what may be coming down the track:… an economic government of Europe, the activism of the European Court of Justice in all the new competences of the Lisbon Treaty; and I ask myself, do I really believe that if we had stayed in, we would have produced a more devolved, a more decentralised, a more free-trading European Union?’
But, Boris, you won the vote, it is time to stop the campaign. It is time now to act like a member of cabinet. Boris got into trouble on two fronts. That the UK ‘would not expect to pay for access to their markets any more than they would expect to pay for access to ours’ and ‘we will be able to get on and do free-trade deals.’ These befuddled the negotiating position on an ‘intermediate’ trade deal, in May’s speech, a position he must have known.
He reiterated a disputed figure, used in the campaign, ‘once we have settled our accounts, we will take back control of roughly £350 million per week.’ Once again, the campaign is over Boris, you won.
Boris would have known either the substance of the May speech, or enough to leave alone the delicate points that had already been published in 14 papers that addressed the current issues in the talks. Stay on message Boris, or bugger off.
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