Boris Johnson just faced by far his toughest interview of the campaign. He was pressed hard on Brexit, Kim Darroch’s resignation, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and his economic policy by Andrew Neil. At the end of the interview, Boris Johnson looked at his watch—I suspect it seemed to him much longer than the half an hour it was.
On Brexit, Boris Johnson made his usual case. But his attempt to sound like a details man by citing Gatt 24 Article 5B came rather a cropper when Andrew Neil asked him what was in Article 5C. Boris Johnson had no answer.
When Andrew Neil pressed him on whether he would really walk away and do no deal on October 31st if a deal was almost there, Boris Johnson replied:
‘And I think it would be absolutely insane now to say that yet again we have a you know, a phoney deadline’
What is so interesting about this response is the use of the word ‘now’, it suggests that Boris Johnson might become more flexible about the October 31st deadline nearer the time if a deal is there.
On Kim Darroch’s resignation, Boris Johnson tried to suggest that what he said in Tuesday’s debate wasn’t a factor because the Ambassador hadn’t watched it. But under sustained questioning from Andrew Neil, Boris Johnson conceded that Darroch had told him that what he had been told about the debate had been a factor in his decision to quit. But the former Foreign Secretary insisted that this had been a misrepresentation of what he had said.
The area where Boris Johnson appeared least confident was on the question of what fiscal rules he would have as Prime Minister. Boris Johnson seemed unaware that the government’s current fiscal rules don’t allow it to borrow more than 2 percent of GDP. He also gave no indication of what limit on borrowing, beyond having debt fall as a percentage of GDP, he would impose as First Lord of the Treasury.
By the end of the interview, it was clear why the Johnson camp wanted this encounter to take place late in the campaign, long after the ballot papers had gone out. The extent to which Boris Johnson was attempting to run down the clock was striking. The saving grace for the Johnson camp is that Jeremy Hunt also had a tough time tonight, running into trouble on the defining issue of this campaign: when the UK will actually leave the EU.