‘Boris is a shal­low pop­ulist.. he’d be a dis­as­ter for the coun­try’

TIM WALKER talks to Do­minic Grieve, the for­mer at­tor­ney gen­eral, who is now elo­quently mak­ing the case for a Peo­ple’s Vote

The New European - - Agenda -

If Boris John­son were to fi­nally suc­ceed Theresa May as prime min­is­ter, and – in the in­ter­ests of uni­fy­ing the Con­ser­va­tive Party – he de­cided to of­fer Do­minic Grieve a place in his cab­i­net, the an­swer would be un­hesi­tat­ing and terse. “It would be a ‘no,’” says Grieve, with an un­char­ac­ter­is­tic cold­ness in his voice.

“It would have noth­ing to do with our op­pos­ing po­si­tions on Brexit, but I’ve made an as­sess­ment of him over many years. He is a shal­low pop­ulist – man­i­festly un­suit­able for high of­fice – who would un­doubt­edly be a dis­as­ter for the coun­try and bring doom to the Con­ser­va­tive Party.”

Grieve, a Queen’s Coun­sel and for­mer at­tor­ney gen­eral, has con­fined him­self to talk­ing in terms of the facts through­out his le­gal and po­lit­i­cal ca­reer, and clearly he ab­hors the kind of “pub pa­tri­o­tism” that John­son and some of his fel­low Brex­trem­ists, such as Nigel Farage, have come to em­body.

“They plugged into some­thing that is very deep in our na­tional psy­che – this sense we have of want­ing to be in­de­pen­dent and find­ing it irk­some hav­ing to be just an­other mem­ber of a much big­ger union – but none of this ever re­ally made much sense. Even at the height of our im­pe­rial grandeur, we were con­strained by the in­ter­na­tional le­gal order, and, even then, a mul­ti­plic­ity of treaty com­mit­ments.

“John­son likes, of course, to see him­self in the mould of Sir Win­ston Churchill, but he should go off and read what that great man was do­ing be­tween 1945 and ’50. In that pe­riod, he re­alised the best hopes he had for the United King­dom could only be achieved in co­op­er­a­tion with our Eu­ro­pean part­ners. Churchill was the prin­ci­pal agent in cre­at­ing the Eu­ro­pean move­ment, and also the Coun­cil of Europe. These Brex­i­teers, like

John­son, who keep in­vok­ing Churchill’s name, should read his fa­mous Zurich speech of 1946 which ended with the ral­ly­ing cry ‘Let Europe arise.’”

Grieve can’t ac­tu­ally see John­son be­com­ing prime min­is­ter, and says, in any case, he would have to be “cer­ti­fi­ably in­sane” to want the job at this junc­ture, as he would have to end up car­ry­ing the can for Brexit. It is clear Grieve feels noth­ing but sym­pa­thy for the cur­rent un­happy in­cum­bent of No.10, whom he has met with pri­vately to dis­cuss Brexit on a num­ber of oc­ca­sions.

“I am sur­prised that Mrs May hasn’t gone over the heads of the Brex­i­teers and lev­elled with the peo­ple about what lies ahead if we con­tinue with this pol­icy. We now all know a lot more about what leav­ing the EU means than we did two years ago, but she still thinks the ref­er­en­dum re­sult means that she has to press ahead with it. She has boxed her­self into a po­si­tion it is very hard for her to get out of. She is an hon­est per­son, how­ever, and it is sig­nif­i­cant that when­ever she is asked if the coun­try will de­rive any ben­e­fits from leav­ing, she re­fuses to say, as she knows very well we will be a lot worse off.”

Grieve does not sup­port her Che­quers deal – any more than John­son’s ‘Su­per Canada’ plan or the Nor­way or Switzer­land op­tions – as they are none of them, in any shape or form, prefer­able to the ex­ist­ing deal the coun­try has with the EU.

He knows that the weeks ahead will be dif­fi­cult, but doubts very much that even the Brex­i­teers would be mad enough to make good on their much-re­ported threats to vote down Philip Ham­mond’s Bud­get as it would, of course, cre­ate a mas­sive po­lit­i­cal cri­sis.

I ask him what he would do in the event that the coun­try ended up leav­ing the EU with no deal, and, for once, the ac­com­plished lawyer seems lost for words. “That is a very dif­fi­cult ques­tion to an­swer. The Con­ser­va­tive Party I’ve be­longed to in the past has al­ways been prag­matic and this would trans­form us into some­thing that is very in­flex­i­ble and ide­o­log­i­cal. If we were no longer able to op­er­ate as a co­he­sive party – which I rather fear would be the case – then that would prob­a­bly re­sult in a gen­eral elec­tion and the in­stal­la­tion of Jeremy Cor­byn as prime min­ster. I don’t see how any Con­ser­va­tive could want that to hap­pen.

“We have never had a Labour leader quite like Cor­byn be­fore and it is quite clear to me that he is push­ing Brexit be­cause he sees how, in the chaos it will bring about, he could over­throw the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem. I think the com­bi­na­tion of a hard Brexit with his poli­cies – I see the lat­est idea un­der con­sid­er­a­tion is a four-day week – would be cat­a­strophic for the coun­try.

“The irony is that the Brex­i­teers – if they could only see it – are mak­ing a Cor­byn premier­ship al­most in­evitable. They talk, for in­stance, of Sin­ga­pore-lite be­ing the an­swer if we leave the EU with­out a deal. I have no doubt that it would prob­a­bly take some ex­treme mea­sure like that to keep us go­ing eco­nom­i­cally in those des­per­ate cir­cum­stances, but this coun­try is not Sin­ga­pore and it wasn’t cre­ated in the way Sin­ga­pore was. We’d be into no pub­lic ser­vices to speak of, and, while that may be a fan­tasy of a tiny mi­nor­ity of lib­er­tar­ian econ­o­mists, I can’t see it be­ing what the elec­torate would want, and, find­ing them­selves in such a fix, they would un­doubt­edly turn to Cor­byn.”

Grieve be­lieves ex­it­ing the EU would al­most cer­tainly re­sult in the break-up of the United King­dom, with Scot­land as well as North­ern Ire­land, go­ing their own ways. The shock to the eco­nomic health of the rump that is left be­hind, in terms of any of the Brexit op­tions on of­fer, would be felt pow­er­fully and im­me­di­ately and would then re­quire a pe­riod of real sac­ri­fices for per­haps 15 to 20 years for all ci­ti­zens.

“Peo­ple still talk about the ‘will of the peo­ple’, but of course none of us has a clue any more what that means. We have got into a sit­u­a­tion no one who voted Leave two years ago could ever have en­vis­aged, and, any­way, they all voted for dif­fer­ent rea­sons, with dif­fer­ent ob­jec­tives. I now find com­mit­ted Brex­i­teers telling me that they never voted for an eco­nomic ben­e­fit. They say it was al­ways about blood, toil, tears and sweat, but that seems to me to be quite a change of tune.

“Wealthy apos­tles of Leave will come out of this the least dam­aged and it will be the poorer and more vul­ner­a­ble mem­bers of our so­ci­ety – whom they per­suaded to go along with this – who will come out of it the most dam­aged and that I think is stok­ing up trou­ble for the fu­ture. It’s also stok­ing up trou­ble – as all my col­leagues know, in their hearts – when you base a pol­icy on what you know to be un­truths.”

Grieve pins all his hopes now on a Peo­ple’s Vote, which he be­lieves, in ad­di­tion to be­ing in the na­tional in­ter­est, is the best way of sav­ing both the Tory and Labour par­ties from break­ing up. “It is com­i­cal to hear peo­ple who know their own ca­reers de­pend on Brexit talk­ing about how this would re­sult in rioting in the streets. I can­not see the peo­ple rioting when they learn that they are go­ing to be per­mit­ted to give their judg­ment on the deal we end up with.

“Oth­ers like to say there won’t be time, but I have no doubt the EU would be will­ing to put back the Ar­ti­cle 50 timetable to al­low this to hap­pen. The key thing is that be­fore we vote again, we get to hear all of the facts. A lot of them have be­come clearer now, but we can­not take this de­ci­sion with­out ev­ery­one be­ing made fully aware of the con­se­quences. If we vote then to ac­cept the deal that’s on of­fer to leave, then I for one will shut up, but my con­science will at least be clear.”

Photo: Richard Gray/ EMPICS En­ter­tain­ment

CLEAR CON­SCIENCE: Do­minic Grieve

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