By Campaign Agent Luke Jeffery
How fitting it was that Boris Johnson should be the man to try and woo Remainers on Valentine’s Day with a speech spelling out the benefits of Brexit. The man who led the 'Leave' campaign during the divisive referendum vote would try to reach out to almost half the population that voted to stay in the EU in 2016. He soon became less of a suitor for the British Remainers and more of a man trying to win back the affections of a wronged partner. It was no surprise therefore that the usual tricks that a once revered politician could call upon to win over a room of journalists and onlookers fell flat.
In his speech Boris Johnson wanted to set out the ‘liberal’ case for Brexit in the first in a series of planned high-profile interventions from cabinet ministers. Instead it offered nothing new about the road to Brexit. It was packed full of the usual jokes, gags and latin one-liners, but the punchlines were sincerely let down by the awkward delivery. They also did not contain any facts. He mentioned stag parties, carrots, and hoovers but not Northern Ireland, the Social Chapter, or what environmental protection would look like after Brexit. What then are we supposed to think about this speech? It far from sounds like something a future Prime Minister would or should say.
Boris started his speech by trying to reach across the Brexit divide to try and allay the fears and anxieties of those that voted to remain. To his credit, he identified that the anxieties that Remainers feel stem from more than the detrimental economic consequences of leaving the EU. “We must accept that the vast majority are actuated by entirely noble sentiments, a real sense of solidarity with our European neighbours and the desire for the UK to succeed’, he stated. He is correct, we all want the UK to succeed. However, any attempt at unification ended as he laid out what he regards as the benefits of Brexit.
Taking a look at the speech in more detail, we should start where the stumbling started - on the topic of deregulation. The Prime Minister has committed to the first phase of EU withdrawal which means full alignment in all important regulations, including the border with Norther Ireland. So, why then did Boris not mention it? He is, after all, our Foreign Secretary. Moving on, he talked about ‘burdensome’ EU regulations that we are ‘lashed’ to but failed to mention any particulars and failed to show people that this burden includes working rights, food and product safety, and environmental protections. It should be mentioned that de-regulation and regulatory divergence could end up being more expensive for British businesses to adopt and therefore reduce growth in the short term. Remainers at this point did not look likely to see anything that remotely resembled a soft-Brexit uttered from the lips of the once Mayor of London.
The NHS was the next topic of discussion. Since that fateful bus advert people have stopped listening to what Boris Johnson says about the NHS, but alas, he mentioned it. He spoke of a ‘regulatory framework, scrupulous and moral, but not afraid of the new'. The fact is that he has already betrayed the British people with his promises of a ‘Brexit bonus’ for the National Health Service. What this speak of ‘regulatory framework’ suggests is that he sees too much regulation tying up the NHS and that it should be changed so as to ‘not be afraid of the new’.
As the Stormont talks about a power sharing arrangement between the DUP and Sinn Fein continue, perhaps our Foreign Secretary should have said something about our closest neighbour. The fact that he did not tells us that he wishes to continue his move for a hard-Brexit that will remove the UK from the customs union and single market and so may jeopardise the Good Friday Agreement. The EU27 completely support the current Irish position going into Brexit and this is something Boris should take into consideration when it comes to future trade deals and the customs union; by not mentioning it he has completely overlooked the crucially important it will play in the future of the United Kingdom.
As for environmental protections he attacked the EU for Britain’s domestic housing policy issues. This is odd, as the EU does not have any influence over domestic policies of any member state, including housing policy. In fact he mocked environmental protections by saying ‘we might decide that it was indeed absolutely necessary for every environmental impact assessment to monitor two life cycles of the snail and build special swimming pools for newts’. What does this show if not the real plans for a Boris Brexit? Johnson all but admitted that he would like to see environmental protections scrapped en masse.
So how should we take this speech? Boris Johnson stepped up but offered nothing new, he chose to ignore his own government’s Brexit impact assessments by dragging out the same old arguments he used during the campaign to Leave. It is unlikely that Johnson’s remarks about unity and togetherness for the sake of Britain will hold any sway over those who voted to Remain, and does little to reconcile existing divisions. This speech turned out to be the opposite of unifying. Boris Johnson laid out his stall for his version of Brexit and he told people that they should unite behind it and move forward. What this speech shows and supports is the already deeply held view that now Boris is for Boris.
Sources and Further Reading:
- Boris Johnson, ‘Boris Johnson’s Brexit Speech’, YouTube (14th February 2018)
- 'Full text: Boris Johnson’s Brexit speech', The Spectator (14th February 2018)
- Yasmeen Serhan, ‘A Valentine from Boris Johnson’, The Atlantic¸(14th February 2018)
- Polly Toynbee, ‘Boris Johnson could have healed the national rift, but he thought only of himself’, The Guardian, (15th February 2018)
- John Crace, ‘Boris digs himself deeper as his usual tricks fall flat’, The Guardian, (14th February 2018)
- Aubrey Allegretti, 'The 8 oddest moments from Boris Johnson's 'Brexit unity' speech', Sky News, (14 February 2018)
- 'Facts about the 'Social Chapter', European Commission (5 February 1997)
- 'Joint report on progress during phase 1 of negotiations under Article 50 TEU on the UK’s orderly withdrawal from the EU', Gov.uk, (8 December 2017)
- Anoosh Chakelian, 'Boris Johnson resurrects the Leave campaign’s £350m for NHS fantasy', New Statesman, (16 September 2016)
- 'Stormont deadlock: NI secretary commits on budget clarity', BBC, (20 February 2018)
- 'Brexit Impact Studies', European Commission
Image: BackBoris2012 Campaign Team @Flickr