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

The Sunday Telegraph - - Letters To The Editor - CONOR BURNS READ MORE at tele­graph.co.uk/opin­ion

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.

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