In defence of Boris' comments: Ill-judged but exactly right

12 Sep 2018

 

As another week goes by it seems as though we are stuck in an infinite loop of recurring events. While Mrs May and her Cabinet desperately try to push their Chequers deal, along comes the blonde bombshell and delivers another of his hard-hitting articles directed squarely at Theresa May and Number 10. This week has not failed to deliver.

 

This week saw controversial comments from former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who claimed that Mrs May’s Chequers proposal had ‘strapped a suicide vest around the British constitution’. Johnson went on to say ‘we have handed the detonator to [EU chief negotiator] Michel Barnier’.

 

The comments are extreme. I personally found them to be crass and distasteful. Similar opinions to mine are held by prominent MPs such as former Army Officer Tom Tugendhat and Mr Johnson’s former colleague at the Foreign Office, Sir Alan Duncan, who both issued strong statements condemning Boris for the language he used to describe Mrs May’s position on Brexit.

 

I am in no doubt about the incendiary nature of the comments made by Johnson or the justified outrage that followed from a number of MPs. He could have made the point just as well without using such language. However, since the article was published, my question has been: is Boris wrong?

 

In the immediate aftermath of the article, I was critical of the argument he made simply because of the language used. It appears Johnson had made these comments for the sake of it and had not properly considered his remarks. Nevertheless, the article is worth reading and the argument listened to.

 

The article, when stripped back to its bare bones, is nothing less than another broadside aimed directly at Theresa May’s Chequers proposal. Johnson addresses the potential it has for causing damage to the country – should the party officially adopt it as the deadline for an EU deal rushes to meet Theresa May like the ground towards a skydiver.

 

Johnson argues that the Chequers proposal put forward by the government is effectively the worst of all worlds. That is, we have the ability to effectively leave the EU, but would instead remain shackled to its restrictions with no say in the decision-making process. In essence, the UK would become a rule taker, not a rule maker.

 

This has led many from both the Brexiteer and Remain camps to raise the question: What the hell are we leaving for? Why leave the EU, only to remain in the Single Market and Customs Union? It is a question that those who support Mrs May in her Chequers proposal have been unable to answer. Instead of trying to provide an answer of substance, ministers, and Members of Parliament continue to reassure the public that Chequers is the best deal available to us if we are to leave the EU on good terms.

 

But many are in agreement that this is not the case, including a number of those who championed the Remain cause. For example, on the Monday edition of Politics Live on BBC2, ex-EU commissioner Lord Mandelson compared Chequers to ‘Hotel California’: you can check out, but you can never leave. This, to me, speaks volumes. When a champion of the hard-line Remainer camp calls into question the workability of the Chequers proposal, you hardly have a testament to what the government have produced.

 

So not only is Boris Johnson now taking Chequers to town every week, but even the staunchest of Remain supporters are trying to squash the Chequers deal. Although admittedly, each for their own political ends. In the case of Lord Mandelson, this would be a ‘People’s Vote’ should we arrive at the decision of no deal.

 

This was another point that was made in Johnson’s article on Sunday. The Chequers plan came with the promise of established principles, but no measures were in place to stop the EU from cherry-picking the proposal and disposing of the rest. For example, Johnson makes the point that there is now a default position, agreed last December, that if there is no solution to the Northern Ireland border issue ‘Northern Ireland will remain a part of the Customs Union and the Single Market’, thus threatening the integrity of the Union.

 

I can agree with Boris on his criticism of the Chequers deal; it offers the EU a safe way out and allows them to blackmail us over Northern Ireland. This could create a series of potentially unworkable solutions: we could be faced with an impossible situation of either sacrificing Northern Ireland and diluting the Union or keeping the Union but risking a no-deal scenario or another vote.

 

It is unfortunate that in the process of trying to please all sides of the debate, Theresa May and her Chequers proposal have put the UK and its future outside of the EU at risk. It has given a six-shot pistol to Brussels with five of the chambers loaded; we will have to take or reject the final deal. If that fails, then we are left with little else than securing Brexit In Name Only.

 

Mrs May must chuck the Chequers proposal and generate a new deal such as the Canada-style agreement being worked on by David Davis and Steve Baker before they resigned earlier this year. Such an agreement would allow us the benefits of being in the EU Single Market and Customs Union while retaining some autonomy.

 

Although the language used by Boris was extreme, he is not wrong in his argument, and instead makes a compelling case for an alternative to Chequers.

 

 

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