Pride in Britain inspires everything Boris does
The Foreign Secretary’s detractors see a malign motive in a man who wants only the best for his country
Our Foreign Secretary is one of those rare politicians whose reach is huge, spirit irrepressible and who has optimism built into his DNA. He engages daily in what Arnold Bennett once called “the great task of cheering us all up”. It is no understatement to say that if pessimism were a disease, Boris Johnson would be immune.
Like so many of us who campaigned for Britain to leave the European Union last year, he doesn’t just respect the referendum result; he welcomes and embraces it. We see in it the potential for positive change for our country.
So, too, does Theresa May and the Government she leads. When she formed her administration last year, she rightly created a new Department of State to lead Britain’s exit. Yet she also tasked Greg Clark with creating a modern industrial strategy – not due to Brexit but due to a will to equip Britain for the opportunities of Brexit. In the apposite words of TS Eliot: “To make an end is to make a beginning. The end of where we start from.” Ending membership of the EU in 2019 does mark a new start for Britain, something the Prime Minister recognised in the formation of the Department of International Trade, which serves as a bold statement of Britain’s global ambition post-Brexit.
But Boris doesn’t simply believe that we must make a success of Brexit, as though it were some ghastly hand we were dealt that we must struggle to mitigate. He thinks we can and will make a success of Brexit because of the country and people we are. The over-puffed Project Fear predictions of soaring unemployment, apocalypse budgets and inward investment drying to a trickle have proved as unfounded as many of us argued at the time.
The reaction of some to Boris’s piece in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph are as predictable as they are depressing – always seeking to attribute some malign motive to an expression of unshakeable confidence in Britain and the talents of her people. Boris supports Mrs May and has said it, in primary colours, over and over again, both in public and (take it from someone there) in private. He is doing a job he relishes in a team he respects, united in delivering the vision set out in the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech.
As the negotiations proceed and the commentary on them expands, we need to remind ourselves of the prize at the other side. It is understandable that the airwaves are thick with discussion of transition periods, payments, borders, trade, courts, Henry VIII, delegated legislation and the like. Yet in the midst of this thicket of detail, we must not lose sight of the opportunities to be grasped in the world beyond the EU.
We seem to take as a given the unique strengths we have as a country (and I mean all four nations of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England). We are leaders in Nato, with a military that has an envied international operational reach, and a pivotal member of the Commonwealth; we are in the vanguard of nations delivering aid and development internationally. London is a preeminent global financial hub, our universities are world-beaters and even our language is the stock in trade of global diplomacy and commerce.
Above all, our reach spans the world. As the Foreign Secretary noted yesterday, one in seven of its kings, queens, presidents and prime ministers were educated in Britain – and he should know, because he meets them often as he criss-crosses the globe. We also have more than six million of our citizens living overseas – more than any other OECD country. That world beyond the EU is a friendly place for Britain. Our county’s history as well as our innovative modernity equip us well. It is for us to decide as a nation what we want to be in the years ahead – a debate I hope the Foreign Secretary’s intervention will provoke.
So how should Boris’s extended article be seen? I would suggest through the lens of personal consistency and as a rebuke to pessimism, to carping and to moaning. In his closing speech at Wembley during the largest debate of the referendum, he said many proponents of Project Fear were “woefully underestimating this country and what it can do.” Sadly, too many still are. This intervention is a reminder of how much Britain has going for her and a call for those of us at home to have just a smidgen of the faith in ourselves that others have in us. It is as timely as it is welcome.
Conor Burns is Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Foreign Secretary and MP for Bournemouth West.