Boris Johnson is about to reap what he sowed

By Michael Brett

So Boris, as he likes to be called, hopes he can reassemble a disjointed Britain.  Under his benign leadership families that were torn apart by violently differing views on EU membership can be restored to harmony and domestic bliss.

The 29 million-odd people WHO DID NOT VOTE TO LEAVE THE EU in the 2016 referendum are to be dragged out willy-nilly to satisfy the 17.4 million who voted to leave. This is widely hailed as democracy.

Brexit rules the waves (which, incidentally, can only be used in future to transport goods at the cost of a hell of a lot more paperwork, restriction and delay). We will be poorer in the future than we would have been as EU members. Even the would-be leavers are forced to concede this.

How on earth did we land in this situation?

Let’s start with Mr Johnson (to call him Boris suggests a degree of chumsy-wumsiness with the common man and woman that has been a considerable electoral asset, but an enormously damaging deception).  A Johnson who doesn’t get his own way is best viewed in a thick glass tank and handled with venom-proof gloves.

Back in the 1990s Mr Johnson, entrenched in the Daily Telegraph’s Brussels bureau, entertained and amused us with his witty and contemptuous travesties of what the Brussels bureaucrats were up to.

Stories of the permitted bend in a banana or the maximum size of a condom stand out. He was not the inventor of anti-EU bias in Britain, but in furtherance of his own interests he skilfully exploited a long-standing scepticism towards the EU, particularly in factions within the Conservative Party.

And the Johnson view strongly influenced the climate of opinion in the country at large. Already, lies and half-truths were establishing the background climate for the EU membership debate.

Heads or tails

Roll forward a number of years and Johnson is deeply into politics, on the Conservative ticket, though still drawing a very comforting income from his writing skills.

Prime Minister David Cameron tries to save his own skin by putting party before country and conceding a referendum on EU membership to keep his eurosceptic MPs at bay. Johnson scents an opportunity, flips his remain/leave coin and it lands with “leave” facing upwards.

Boris Johnson uses an empty slogan when he says he would get Brexit done.

‘Get Brexit done’ was the slogan by which Boris Johnson was elected. But he did not say what sort of Brexit.

Now a committed leaver, Johnson puts all his efforts behind the campaign to take Britain out of the EU, which succeeds in attracting marginally more votes than the inexcusably complacent “remain” faction, though the difference is too small to be statistically significant or to provide a basis for action.

If the EU referendum, originally presented as purely advisory, does deliver an item of advice it is that the country is hopelessly split, and the waters are far too turgid to justify dipping even a toe.

The pro and anti EU split in the Conservative party will have to be faced one day.  But to face it from the then near-complete ignorance in Britain about all things European does not seem the height of wisdom.

No matter. Johnson is an exceedingly clever man and if he has somehow progressed from childhood to middle age without picking up a scintilla of wisdom along the way, this is not necessarily a disqualification in Tory eyes.

For Johnson has the charisma that wins votes, and the Conservatives are desperately short of charisma and of a decisive chunk of votes. Whether Johnson could conceivably run the country is a bridge that can be crossed once the votes are in the bag.

The tangled web

As they now are. No doubt the government can now force through Johnson’s version of Theresa May’s leaving bill, though whether the more substantial subsequent legislation can meet its end-2020 deadline is far more doubtful.

Then there are the years of negotiating trade deals to come, most notably the vital one that threatens to make Britain a vassal state of America.

Meantime, the United Kingdom will probably be looking a whole lot less united as Scotland explores various avenues to achieve independence from Britain and many among the Welsh think their country might be better governed from Cardiff than from London.

Whether the thoroughly shafted Northern Irish will begin to see more attraction in amalgamation with a South that remains a full EU member also remains to be seen.

So it’s a tangled web that our rulers have been weaving and the biggest deceit of the lot is the lie that the 2016 referendum vote provided a clear mandate to take Britain out of the EU. As we’ve seen, it did nothing of the sort.

But a lie repeated often enough, loudly enough and with a sufficient air of authority will often assume the status of truth. Donald Trump in the United States caught onto this from the outset and Johnson in Britain is not far behind.

Notice that Johnson’s response to any information he does not like is the simple word “nonsense”. Detail is not his strong point; it would come as no surprise if he’d been told by his minders never to get into an argument on facts or their interpretation.

His denial that his plan for leaving the EU involves checks on goods passing between Britain and Northern Ireland is a case in point. It’s fair to conclude that, whoever else understands Johnson’s EU departure plan, Johnson does not — or finds it convenient not to do so.

If you are tempted to think that the Conservatives’ overwhelming election victory marks an end to hostilities, think again. Doubtless, there will be a brief period of relative calm as the parties regroup.

But the real detailed fights are yet to come and a policy built largely on lies from beginning to end could crumble quite rapidly as the realities intrude on the myth of a free-wheeling British economic powerhouse, freed from the shackles the EU is supposed to have imposed on its governance and its sovereignty.

Mr Johnson may yet go down in history not only as the man who elevated the lie to its current exalted status in diplomacy but also prepared the ground for the dismantling of Britain’s hitherto united kingdom.

*As we move deeper into liar territory, where we can rely less and less on the words coming from the mouths of senior politicians, we need to exploit other ways of predicting likely future actions. The character of a man or woman, as revealed by their past actions, becomes far more important than anything they might say.  In the case of Prime Minister Johnson, we have the benefit of Sonia Purnell’s excellent biography of the man “Just Boris: a Tale of Blond Ambition”. This perceptive account takes us only up to 2012 but nothing in his subsequent behaviour suggests that this leopard has changed his spots or is likely to do so. It is required reading for anyone with an interest in politics today. Perhaps at this point I should declare an interest to the extent that I worked with Sonia Purnell on a small business paper many years back, and had the opportunity to develop a very healthy respect for her judgement and integrity. But I have not in any way been involved in the book, except as a much entertained and informed reader.

– Michael Brett is the author of bestsellers “How to Read the Financial Pages” and “Property and Money