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Brexit Bulletin: Send in the clown

 

Now if there’s a smile on my face, It’s only there trying to fool the public 1

As the Guardian wrote this week, ‘Mr Johnson’s victory is the culmination of more than two decades of Conservative folly, which began when the party embraced populist Europhobia … The party has finally got a leader it deserves. Mr Johnson plays the clown. But the circus will move on, only to leave a broken country in its wake.’

So, as expected, Boris Johnson won the Tory party leadership contest and with it became PM. This column extends its congratulations to Boris and the 0.2% of the population who voted for him, as for the other 99.8% of us, well, good luck, it won’t be boring.

congratulations to Boris and the 0.2% of the population who voted for him

Or, as Jeremy Corbyn said, ‘We’ve had three years of bungled negotiations and we now have the spectacle of a prime minister coming into office with no electoral mandate, looking for a Brexit deal that has been ruled out by the European Union or, in the case of no deal, ruled out by the majority of this house and by anyone that understands the dangers to the British economy of no deal.’

Boris, in his inaugural speech outside No.10 talked about Brexit, and other policies such as the NHS, policing, and bringing back a Britain to be proud of, blah, blah, blah, it’s just noise.

What was conspicuous by its absence was any acknowledgement of the wealth gap, the bloodbath on the high street that it too conveniently blamed on Amazon rather than austerity economics, and therefore any policy to change this.

Before we focus on Brexit, which was the tenet that persuaded the 0.2% of the population to elect him, lets us consider the man, and the politician.

Ministers who have worked with him say he can be lazy, doesn’t attend to detail, can treat relationships with contempt, and can be dangerously indiscreet. The vote last week to obstruct any dissolution of parliament in the run-up to the Brexit deadline served only to reveal the low esteem which even some of his own party have for him.

the first prime minister to suffer a defeat in the Commons before taking office

It was a pre-emptive strike, making him the first prime minister to suffer a defeat in the Commons before taking office.

However, much of this misses the point with Boris, to those susceptible to his charm this overcomes all the misgivings, crass remarks, etc, etc.

He will simply dismiss practical reservations about Brexit as the invention of cowards and naysayers, disruption caused by a disorderly Brexit is simply a test of national resolve. It’s the spirit of the Blitz MK II, a chance for those of us who missed the first run to re-enact the glory of standing alone.

Indeed, his new cabinet, formed after one the most radical overhauls of government in many years endorses this conviction to deliver at all or any cost.

With few exceptions the One Nation Conservatives have been culled, their supposed leader, Amber Rudd, is either window dressing or a convert, my money is on the latter. The hard right has taken over the Conservative Party.

He will simply dismiss practical reservations about Brexit as the invention of cowards and naysayers

Just how far to the right they have moved was amply illustrated today when it was revealed that  Chloe Westley, who will lead Johnson’s social media team at No 10, sent a now-deleted tweet in 2016 praising Anne Marie Waters as ‘a hero’.

Waters, who has close links to the jailed anti-Islam activist Tommy Robinson, leads the far-right For Britain party.

Gaffes will be numerous and instant; in his speech to the party faithful after his victory was confirmed he mentioned the 20 hustings he had taken part in, approximately 30 seconds after Conservative party chairman Brandon Lewis talked of the 16 hustings held.

They will also be deeply insulting to many, littered with racist, homophobic and sexist statements. For example, referring to Africans as ‘piccaninnies’ with ‘watermelon smiles’, to Muslim women wearing burqas as ‘bank robbers’ and ‘letter boxes’, to gay men as ‘tank-topped bumboys’ and to female Labour MPs as ‘hot totties’.

Whilst this may sound like the script from a 1970s Bernard Manning TV show we have moved on. Today anyone uttering anything like that would never work in media again. However, such is his Teflon demeanour that is dismissed by many as Boris being Boris, accident prone, bit of a laugh eh, everyone too PC these days anyway.

Today anyone uttering anything like that would never work in media again

Whereas, its deeply offensive and highlights a style of politics where the lowest common denominator and picking-on minorities is acceptable.

At this point I had planned to explore the relationship between Trump and Boris, in doing so I came across an article in Vanity Fair which was so perfect I couldn’t resist quoting it; ‘Johnson has been described as the British Trump: both are pathological liars and flagrant racists who’ve had at least five children that they know of with multiple women.

Their tabloid scandals are legion and both of their hairstyles could be described as roadkill-chic. Johnson may not be as aggressively anti-intellectual as Trump, having received some finishing school polish at Eton and Oxford, but he is similarly opportunistic, having arrived late in life to right-wing populism as a path to political power.’

Their tabloid scandals are legion and both of their hairstyles could be described as roadkill-chic

But this column is meant to be about Brexit, and this is what Boris has been elected by the 0.2% to deliver. And he didn’t disappoint the faithful, insisting he would strike a ‘new deal’ with the EU27, without the ‘anti-democratic backstop’ and complete Brexit before the Halloween deadline. ‘The buck stops here,’ he said.

‘We are going to fulfil the repeated promises of parliament to the people and come out of the EU on 31 October, no ifs or buts,’ he said.

‘The passion dies sweet little death, Just have been lies, Some memories of gone by time would still recall the lies’ 2

 

Wonderful stuff indeed, so nostalgic that images of Spitfire pilots in silk scarves being serenaded by Vera Lynn washed over me. And then I woke up from the dystopian dream to read that Boris has played down the idea of fresh Brexit talks with the EU unless Brussels first agrees to reopen the entire withdrawal agreement and scrap the Irish backstop, both of which have been repeatedly ruled out.

This stance only serves to place us more firmly on course for a no-deal departure on 31 October, Downing Street said there were no new Brexit talks scheduled, and that Johnson was ‘clear what the basis for those discussions needs to be’.

those pesky foreigners, or the EU for short, continue to insist that there is no way it will drop the Irish backstop

No whilst some might admire the dour Britishness being displayed by the PM, it can be also be seen as blind stupidity as those pesky foreigners, or the EU for short, continue to insist that there is no way it will drop the Irish backstop.

Earlier, France’s minister for European affairs, Amélie de Montchalin, said both sides should avoid ‘games, gestures and provocations’ over the Irish border, with just three months to go before the UK is due to leave. De Montchalin said there was solidarity with Ireland and reiterated that the withdrawal agreement would not be renegotiated.

And, to add to those pesky foreigners not playing ball there is basic common sense:

  • You cannot be outside a customs union and not have a border.
  • You cannot have friction and no friction.
  • Whist it may be possible to site the border some miles back, somewhere there must be tariffs, payments, forms, regulation and inspection.
  • A 40% tariff on a shipment of lamb is a barrier, wherever it gets levied.
  • A chlorinated chicken inspection is a wall, wherever it is done

And, finally, we must consider the economic implications of No Deal. Given that No Deal would see us leaving with no trade deals in place or transition period for businesses, most sane people rightly regard it as a doomsday scenario.

On Tuesday, the International Monetary Fund published an update of its World Economic Outlook, noting that a no-deal Brexit would ‘sap confidence, weaken investment, dislocate local supply chains and severely slow global growth below the baseline.’

Words are just that, words; practicalities are what stop words becoming reality. Currently, either the EU totally backs down or Boris, if he wishes to deliver on his fine words, must lead a No Deal Brexit.

There is a compromise; Johnson promises to safeguard an open Irish border, which means a de facto customs union, for the time being, in the hope of Ireland persuading the EU to redraft the withdrawal agreement. Hard to sell this one to the faithful as ‘taking back control’.

But It isn’t control we need, its power, trade is driven by power and strength, the UK has little power against its bigger neighbour.

The power and control we enjoy as an EU member are being sacrificed by him in his desperation to outdo his leadership rivals, and to halt the march of the Brexit party. The outcome is binary, if Johnson cannot get a Northern Ireland deal, he faces parliamentary defeat.

So far, so bad, where do we go? If logic dictates that the PM cannot backtrack and therefore reach a compromise with the EU, then to deliver on his key promise on leaving on 31/10 he needs to return to parliament and navigate a No Deal Brexit through the commons. But this is a house that doesn’t support No Deal, therefore, he either dispenses with parliament or reshapes it through a general election.

Perhaps that’s why Dominic Cummings, the arch-manipulator, who is already held in-contempt of parliament, is on the PMs team? Can he weave his spell a second time in an election that is a referendum on EU membership MK II in everything but name?

It’s hard to see how such how such divisive actions and words can unite a nation.

 

‘No fun to hang around, Feelin’ that same old way, No fun to hang around, Freaked out, For another day’3

 

OK lyric spotters, another triple this week; an eclectic mix, and confirmation, if I ever needed it why I so enjoy trying to unravel Philip’s conundrum and being reminded of some cracking tracks that may have fallen down the back of the playlist sofa.

Try to turn those points to prizes and you’ll be as disappointed as ever, but savour the bragging rights that come with bagging three out of three.

1 Given the clue that is included in the title, I reckon that many will find his opening gambit is a loosener – Smokey Robinson’s classic, here with a Two Tone twist – it’s The Beat and ‘Tears of a Clown’. (Sorry Philip………Ed)

2 Next off the rank, one that foxed me, but two seconds in and it was Songs Reunited – a cracking track, Duel 1985 and ‘Propaganda’; I’m not sure if I ever knew what it was called, and wouldn’t have got the lyric if I’d wrestled with it until Boris’ leaving do (take more time if you need it….Ed) but I’m pleased to be reacquainted.

3 Last but by no means least, we’ve not had one of his stalwarts yet, so Bowie? Jesus and Mary Chain? Joy Division?

This one got to me; I knew it was in there, so I allowed myself a cooling off period with something cooling. When I revisited it, I knew it wasn’t coming, so I prostrated myself to Dr Google. Now I get it – of course there was going to be a Stooges track, but that wasn’t what I was searching for. I knew it as a Pistols song, and forty years on, hadn’t ever known it was a cover of Iggy and the Stooges ‘No Fun’. No messing with this one, its the original, and I’ve learned something – enjoy! 

 

Philip Gilbert 2Philip Gilbert is a city-based corporate financier, and former investment banker.

Philip is a great believer in meritocracy, and in the belief that if you want something enough you can make it happen. These beliefs were formed in his formative years, of the late 1970s and 80s

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