Three years ago, a man with no discernible political convictions other than his own self-promotion decided to argue for an impossible and fraudulent policy position that he would never have to implement but that would make him popular with his party’s members.
This politician, previously the Mayor of London, had at times during his career been a fairly progressive liberal Conservative. As Mayor of one the world’s cosmopolitan cities – and your correspondent confesses to having voted for him at that time – the politician extolledthe virtues of immigrationand of the EU single market while also excoriating Brussels for closing the door on Turkey – land of some of his ancestors– for having committed no crime other than having been a secular (at the time) democracy (again not so much anymore but I digress) with a Muslim majority. Earlier, he had supported repealing the ban on teaching about homosexuality in schools and supported the Gender Recognition Act.
However, the politician executed a volte-face during the Brexit referendum campaign. No longer pitching for the votes of metropolitan London, he said that the elites – in other words, people like him – were hiding from the people the true costs of immigration, which would become oh so much worse once Turkey would join the EU and enjoy freedom of movement. The Director of Vote Leave, frustrated that so many of his acolytes refused to stick to the message and were incompetently bumbling on about some hopeful, positive, optimistic “Go Global” nonsense instead, madethis famous politician one of his few default surrogates, before the politician subsequently deniedever having spoken about Turkey in the referendum campaign.
As you have probably guessed, I am speaking of Alexander Johnson, “Al” as he is known to his family. Al is an Oxford-educated classicist. In public this famous politician goes by his alter-ego called “Boris” (Al’s middle name), a buffoonish jolly japer who can get away with, revel in, draw attention to himself by, saying the outrageous and the sensible in quick succession, and take diametrically opposed positionson the same issue because nobody is supposed to take him seriously.
Unfortunately for the country, the 2016 referendum result shocked Aland made him realisethat it would actually have to be implemented. Which it couldn’t be, because it was a con. Three days after the result, Al was spelling outthe full nature of that con, reassuring people as if to reassure himself that the UK would maintain its seamless relationship with Europe while also cutting loose, making its own rules, and signing its own deals.
And nowhere is that seamless relationship more important than on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, where the invisible border is a key component of the Good Friday Agreement, the peace treaty that enables unionists and republicans to live peacefully in the same country. Under this agreement, neither side can do anything that obligates the other to construct any kind of border infrastructure.
And as the whole world knows, the UK leaving the EU’s single market and customs union – which it would have to do in order to make its own rules and which Al (since 2016) favours – obligates both sides to build a customs border. As the whole world equally knows, this is the reason for the backstop, the guarantee that if no other solution is found during trade talks, Northern Ireland will remain in the internal market and the customs union and be subject to EU rules.
This deal was so unacceptable to Al and friends that – after voting against it twice and then for it – they eventually defenestrated Prime Minister Theresa May over her insistence on signing up to it. They would rather leave without a deal, and, just as they never thought about the consequences for Northern Ireland before campaigning for Brexit in the referendum, they assume that this “made-up issue” will just magic itself away under a No Deal Brexit too.
But fear not, for Al assures that he will do his utmost to avoid No Deal. He has started already, by telling the EUthat we need a different deal. Not a deal that includes the backstop, of course. But a deal nonetheless. By signalling that he is ready to talk, Al is trying to position the question of whether we have a deal as being entirelyup to the EU.
The offer is set upin order to be rejected. It is a demand that means that if the EU – a body whose essential original purpose is to prevent war in Europe, to make war literally unthinkable and impossible – does not commit to junking the Good Friday Agreement – which ended decades of violence in Ulster - then Brussels is an unreasonable ogre hellbent on continuing to colonise the UK even after we have left its orbit.
With Dominic Cummings now back at the side of, and feeding the lines to, a politician whose capacity for doublespeak is enabled by the seemingly harmless clothing of oafish buffoonery, it is incumbent on those who still live in the real world to say the actual words.
The lack of a deal will not be the fault of the EU. It will be the fault of Al, the deadly serious politician who thought he could improve his popularity by employing his jolly japer called Boris to sell a false prospectus because it would never have to be implemented. The more reality shows this to be true, the more he lashes out and destroys the UK’s reputation.
It is up to responsible Conservatives to stop him.
Martin Smith is a CGE member and a strategy consultant for Fortune 500 companies. He was previously a lobbyist in Westminster and Brussels for UK small business organisations, as well as a researcher for a think tank and an MP. He is a former Vice Chairman of EDS, the European centre-right group to which the Young Conservative Group for Europe belongs.