At last, a positive and bold vision for Brexit
The long article that Boris Johnson today writes for the Telegraph is a vital intervention in the single greatest political challenge facing this country. The manner of our departure from the European Union, and the direction we take afterwards, will do more to shape this nation than anything since the Second World War. In the detail of Brexit position papers, the minutiae of obscure parliamentary protocols and the forest of acronyms, from ECJ to Efta, it is sometimes easy to lose sight of this simple fact: we Britons are embarking on a profound new chapter of our island story. All of us – however we voted – have an interest in coming together to secure the enhanced prosperity and sovereignty that is most certainly on offer.
So when Mr Johnson sets out, in his uniquely engaging style, a bold, optimistic, unifying vision for the future of this country, he is also spelling out ideas that we need to hear. Despite the hard-core constellation of wreckers orbiting Tony Blair, the vast majority of Britons either support or have made their peace with the referendum result. The British people, ever pragmatic and respectful of democracy, do not harbour some insurgent appetite to overturn the supremacy of the ballot box. Instead, as the Foreign Secretary points out, there is only an increasing impatience with the inertia that now grips parts of a government entrusted with this most vital of tasks. “Overwhelmingly,” he writes, “I find that Leavers and Remainers are coming together… and urging us to get on and do it, and do a deal that is in the interests of both sides of the Channel.”
There are three key observations here. The first is that Britain is not riven by some seismic crevasse – that on the contrary, a coming-together is in evidence, one only made easier this week by the European Commission’s president, Jeanclaude Juncker, setting out the EU’S full superstate ambitions. The second is that, despite these ambitions, we do not wish those on the Continent ill. Far from it. We were fed up of being the recalcitrant passengers always reaching for the handbrake when the drivers in Brussels wanted to put their foot down. Just because we have stepped out of the EU vehicle, that does not mean we now want it to crash. We wish our EU allies and friends well, even if we worry that the course they are steering may be reckless.
But it is the third issue that, from our own standpoint, is most significant. This is that a degree of boldness of our own is now required. We must indeed “get on and do it”. And it is here that an unavoidable political truth emerges. For the only way of plotting a path through the innumerable possibilities and distractions of Brexit is to have some clear idea of where we want to end up. Without a more-than-managerial sense of a desired destiny for this land, there is simply no hope of fulfilling Brexit’s great potential. Indeed, the more that we are uncertain, the more the certainty of Monsieur Barnier and his team will fill the vacuum. The more that we fail to establish a clear, positive narrative, the more that individuals and businesses may lose heart. The more that we are reactive, failing to elaborate the ideas that will henceforth define us, the more that we will be dictated to, drifting on the tide of history at the very moment when millions thought we had seized the tiller to chart our own course.
Again and again Mr Johnson spells out just such ideas. Here they are: on deregulation, investment, skills, immigration, science and technology, taxation and trade – a torrent of energetic and coherent thinking, a welcome blast to start us from our stupor. Only the determinedly bitter could fail to enthuse.
Here is a future country where regulation and taxation are kept to a minimum, better to encourage entrepreneurialism and competition. Here is a future country that is unashamedly pro-business, but demands in return that business invests in the training that both fosters a highly skilled workforce and repairs Britain’s disastrous level of productivity. Here is a future country which seeks to be a global beacon for hi-tech industries – attracting the greatest minds and talents and exporting world-leading new products – rather than a sink for disposable labour, where immigration justifiably attracts a bad reputation. Above all, here is a future country which stands up for free trade, the greatest source of enrichment the world has ever known, against protectionists wherever they may be found. Around the world there are countless nations which seek a new champion of the free trade that has made the West great, so that they too may secure the prosperity and security that we enjoy. Britain can be that champion.
This is a coherent, uplifting vision of the future. It is not a populist vision, but it has every ingredient to make it an overwhelmingly popular vision. And, as such, it represents a much-needed political challenge to Labour, whose increasing confidence betrays a party that believes it is on the cusp of power. Few readers of this newspaper will need convincing that a Corbyn-led government remains a clear and present danger to the health and wealth of this country.
That element of the last Conservative election campaign is still true. Of course, what was then so sadly lacking was a stirring, positive message about what the Tories wanted to do themselves. Well, here is just such a message. Let the ideas it contains ring out now, and in the weeks to come, loudly and openly around the Cabinet table and throughout government. Let them ring out in a renewed spirit of confidence. Let us not allow the energy, idealism, judgment and justice of our decision to leave the EU dribble away. Let our leaders instead always hold up the inspiring prospect of a bold, tolerant, creative, globally minded and wealthy Britain, and never deviate from the path until we reach that destination.
Let our leaders hold up the inspiring prospect of a bold, tolerant, creative, globally minded and wealthy Britain