Great works of fiction: from marbles to Oompa Loompas
Martha McHardy looks at ‘highlights’ from Johnson’s speech
Boris Johnson used a speech at the Global Soft Power Summit in London to have his say on everything from Rishi Sunak‘s Brexit deal to his Partygate fine. The former prime minister finally broke his silence on the post-Brexit agreement with the EU to resolve the Northern Ireland protocol row – claiming it doesn’t “take back control” from Brussels.
Mr Johnson said it would be “very difficult” to vote for the agreement struck by Mr Sunak, urging the PM to consider using his bill to unilaterally override the protocol if it “doesn’t work”. Mr Johnson was introduced to the stage by Brand Finance plc CEO David Haigh, who explained that he was asked to brief the former PM ahead of his speech, but decided not to because “he doesn’t listen to briefings, he says exactly what he wants to. So I have no idea what’s in his speech”.
And he didn’t disappoint. Here are examples of the more unusual things he said.
1. He was called a wanker on his morning run
Mr Johnson began his speech by revealing someone shouted an expletive insult at him on his morning run. He told how he was called a “wanker” by a “fit young geezer” in a London park. He described the exchange as being a “cheery London greeting” that showed the “minimal” gap between “the government and the governed” in Britain.
2. ‘No one is going to stop me from reciting the song of the Oompa Loompas’
Referencing the recent controversy over the editing of Roald Dahl’s books to remove language considered offensive, Mr Johnson spoke about the privilege of living in a country that has freedom of speech. He said: “Of course, people should be vigilant about free speech but no one is going to stop me from reciting the song of the Oompa Loompas, about Augustus Gloop.”
The former prime minister also said no one should be banned from reading the original James Bond novels, which have also been re-edited, despite no such ban being put in place.
3. He said we should not give away the Elgin marbles
In January, it was revealed that George Osborne, chair of the British Museum and former Tory chancellor, drew up an agreement with Athens as part of a “cultural exchange” to return the Elgin marbles to Greece.
The 2,500-year-old marbles were taken by Lord Elgin in the early 19th century when he was the British ambassador to the Ottoman empire, and have been the subject of controversy over where they should be displayed. Mr Johnson said: “We can’t send them (the Elgin marbles) away any more than we should deport the 40 per cent of Londoners who were born abroad.”
4. He said he does not understand why he was fined over Partygate
Mr Johnson was fined for breaking lockdown rules while he was PM for attending a gathering in Downing Street during the Covid lockdown. In his speech, he said he still does not understand why he was fined but said he understands the importance of the rule of law and freedom under the rule of law. “The law is enforced here without fear or favour,” he said.
5. Angela Merkel called Mr Johnson’s Brexit bill a ‘Shakespearean tragedy’
Mr Johnson claimed former German Chancellor Angela Merkel once told him that the passage of the Brexit deal through parliament would be a “Shakespearean tragedy”. He said he was “thrilled” when the bill passed through the House of Commons.
6. ‘Brexit saved lives’ because it facilitated the UK’s speedy vaccine rollout programme
Mr Johnson linked Brexit and the UK’s rollout of Covid-19 vaccines. More than 120 million jabs had been rolled out by February 2021. However, 70 per cent of these were administered in the 50 richest countries in the world.
In contrast, only 0.1 per cent of vaccine doses had been administered in the world’s 50 poorest countries, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
7. ‘It doesn’t mean we are all going to be attacked by killer tomatoes’
Mr Johnson was critical of Rishi Sunak’s approach to Brexit, claiming: “There’s no point in Brexit unless you do things differently.” He said: “This is not about the UK taking back
control, and although there are easements this is really a version of the solution that was being offered last year to Liz Truss when she was foreign secretary. This is the EU graciously unbending to allow us to do what we want to do in our own country, not by our laws, but by theirs.”
He said, under the Windsor Framework, “British genome-edited tomatoes could not go into the making of a cheese and tomato sandwich in Northern Ireland, which is a matter of great regret”. He said genome editing “doesn’t mean Frankenfoods. It doesn’t mean we are all going to be attacked by killer tomatoes”.
8. ‘In the struggle between the Russian bear and Paddington, my money is on Paddington’
Referencing Ukranian president Volodymyr Zelensky’s role as the voice of the Ukrainian Paddington Bear in his country, Mr Johnson urged other countries to support Ukraine in the war against Russia. He also highlighted the UK’s role in arming Ukraine, something he claimed the UK would not have been able to do if it was still in the EU.
9. No plans to ‘do anything big’ in politics again
Asked about his future plans, Mr Johnson said: “I think it very, very unlikely that I will need to do anything big in politics again.” He ran in the Tory leadership race to replace Liz Truss after initially saying he was ready to return to Downing Street and flew home from a Caribbean holiday to muster support.
However, Mr Johnson was able to secure just 60 public declarations of backing from Tory MPs, and his claim to have amassed the 100 nominations required to get on the ballot paper was treated with scorn by Sunak backers. He later pulled out of the race.
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