So brazen, divisive and Churchillian, the opus was pure Boris
BORIS JOHNSON’S 4,000-word opus boils with frustration at Theresa May’s direction of travel on Brexit – and is more notable for what it doesn’t say than what it does.
Boris flatly refuses to endorse a transition period.
While even the most ardent Leavers in the Government now accept that the UK should remain in the single market and customs union for two to three years after March 2019, while new trade deals are struck, Boris stubbornly resists.
To do so, he says, would ‘make a complete mockery of Brexit and turn an opportunity into a national humiliation. It would be the worst of both worlds, with the UK turned into a vassal state’.
He also rebels against the growing Whitehall consensus that the UK should make multibillion pound ‘divorce’ payments during the transition to unblock negotiations, saying: ‘We would not expect to pay for access to their markets any more than they would expect to pay for access to ours’.
This is not a minor distinction which can be easily finessed: it blows a clear hole in No 10’s strategy just days before the most important speech of the Prime Minister’s life, when she sets out her own Brexit plan in Florence on Friday.
Boris’s unembarrassed reference to his referendum pledge to return £350 million a week from Brussels to the NHS shows how determined he is to defend himself against claims of backsliding. He repeats the campaign mantra, saying: ‘We will take back control of roughly £350 million per week. It would be a fine thing if a lot of that money went on the NHS’.
The Foreign Secretary also issues a warning to Chancellor Phillip Hammond, the Cabinet’s most powerful advocate for a transitionary ‘soft’ Brexit, by saying that the Treasury has not ‘so far’ sought to punish the British people for voting for Brexit by delivering an ‘emergency Budget’ of the sort so controversially threatened by former Chancellor George Osborne before the vote.
Another giveaway that the article is designed to lay down a marker for a veiled leadership bid comes in the tone, which channels the rhetorical flourish of his great hero, Winston Churchill.
In contrast to Theresa May’s constipated verbal formulas, Boris strikes a consciously positive, optimistic note – pushing the patriotic button with lines such as: ‘Of all the kings, queens, presidents and prime ministers in the world, one in seven was educated in this country’.
He concludes by condemning the ‘grievous error’ of ‘all those who wrote off this country, who think we don’t have it in us, who think that we lack the nerve and the confidence to tackle the task ahead’.
He’s blown a clear hole in No 10’s strategy