Misgivings that Boris Johnson, across several policy areas, is in the process of betraying many of the promises he made or implied in both his party leadership and general election campaigns, are growing
Note: longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Friday 16th October 2020
Straws in the wind? Maybe. An overdeveloped sense of cynicism and scepticism on my part, laced with premonition? Perhaps. But the past few months have given enough indications to justify misgivings that, on several pressing issues of contemporary policy, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is progressively abandoning the positions on which his General Election campaign was based, less than a year ago.
On immigration, both legal and illegal, election pledges are going significantly unfulfilled. Johnson has failed to withdraw Britain from the UN Global Migration Compact signed up to by Theresa May – a withdrawal which would surely have given us considerable leverage in our negotiations with the EU over our future relationship – and which I suggested in July 2019 should be one of the eight key tests by which we could judge whether as PM, Johnson would delight or disappoint us.
The promised ‘control’ of illegal cross-Channel migration and people-smuggling has not only not materialised, but numerically has worsened. Operationally, it has descended into farce; if deploying an Airbus Atlas A-300M transport to conduct low-level Channel surveillance patrols wasn’t a desperate enough ploy to try and convince a sceptical population that action was being taken, how about the idea of deploying nets to catch boats ferrying illegal migrants? [Applications from unemployed lepidopterists welcome, presumably.]
The points-based assessment system following the Australian model looks reasonably robust – if and when it ever goes into practice – but the legislation faces defeat in the overwhelmingly pro-Remain House of Lords. Meanwhile, attempts to deport illegal migrants and asylum-seekers whose claims have been rejected are regularly being thwarted by ‘liberal’-left open-borders activist human rights lawyers. Yet, in the EU negotiations, possible concessions over free movement and/or the continuing jurisdiction in Britain of the European Courts frequently pop up on the radar.
If pre-election Boris was suspiciously susceptible to the blandishments of the eco-lobby, then post-election Boris appears in total thrall to the Green Blob. Scarcely a speech passes without some hyperbolic reference from Johnson to how Britain’s economic recovery from Covid19 will be built on a ‘Green’ energy investment and production bonanza, despite its so far unmitigated expense, its continuing reliance on fossil-fuel powered back-up to cope with the intermittency problem, and its still relatively low contribution to the total energy output.
Consider for one moment the Britain in prospect under the rolling Covid-19 lockdowns to which Johnson appears irrevocably committed, despite the increasingly powerful and widespread arguments for a different approach, less damaging to our economy and society.
Whole areas under virtual house arrest. Travel, especially aviation, severely restricted. Rising energy prices. An increasing role for the State in the economy, needing to be financed of course by higher taxes, especially enviro-taxes. Unemployment growing, and business collapsing.
Johnson and Hancock’s policy response to Covid, imposing serial lockdowns in slavish deference almost exclusively to the doom-merchants among the medico-scientific advice available to them – despite a growing body evidence favouring a different, less economically and societally damaging approach – is certainly killing ‘Business As Usual’ for many firms, and their employees.
Tell me how this doesn’t go a fair way towards meeting many of the strident demands of the hard Green-Left, anti-capitalist, eco-totalitarian Extinction Rebellion? And if so, why? Undue influence from the distaff side, perhaps, or……what?
Johnson’s condescending assurance to newly Tory-voting electors in the Midlands and North, worried about losing their jobs in the developing economic fallout from lockdown, and apprehensive about whether they’ll be allowed to set their relatives at Christmas, that they’ll eventually be able to boil a kettle from ‘renewable’ energy – provided, of course, the wind is blowing hard enough (but NB, not too hard) at the time – is unlikely to retain their loyalty. And who can blame them?
The allegedly ‘libertarian’ Boris Johnson has not been much in evidence during 2020’s explosion of leftist Wokery at not only street, but also at political, institutional, media, cultural and academic, levels. He has been reticent, to say the least, in robustly defending free speech, and has largely refrained from unduly criticising egregious instances of corporate Wokeness.
Particularly unedifying was the image of him, bunkered and mute in Number Ten, while hard-Left Black Lives Matter / Antifa protestors violently trashed the Parliament Square statue of his supposed hero Churchill, Johnson finally emerging to comment only after the statue had had to be boarded up for its own protection. We appear to have elected a Prime Minister reluctant to defend our history and heritage when both are under (literally) physical assault.
On Brexit, in recent weeks my colleagues Adrian Hill and Tim Bradshaw over at The Conservative Woman have done a sterling job of chronicling in detail the twists and turns of the tortuous negotiations with Brussels over Britain’s future relationship with the EU. To repeat many of their arguments would be superfluous, so that here I merely need to summarise and comment.
Despite Boris’ tough talk for public consumption, it’s been possible to detect potential harbingers of compromise and concession. While the EU’s, and Barnier’s, intransigence continues virtually unabated, there has been talk of the deadline being extended to ensure Britain doesn’t leave without a trade deal, within which it would be surprising if some concessions were not made.
Pressure for compromise and concession to ensure No-Deal continues to come from parts of the financial markets, business sectors, and lobby groups. Some of the direst security warnings of Project Fear are being dusted off and regurgitated. Meanwhile, the EU still insists on retaining enforcement powers in any UK trade deal, while rumours circulate that an accommodation will be reached on the continued jurisdiction, after the end of the Termination Period, of the ECJ on business regulation.
On fishing rights, if arguably not the most economically significant issue, then certainly the most politically totemic, can we be sure that a government seemingly powerless to stop rubber dinghies full of illegal migrants crossing the Channel has the determination to resist, whatever it takes, the threatened ongoing predation on our sovereign fishing grounds? The likelihood of compromise to avoid confrontation surely can’t be ruled out.
For a PM who prioritises being liked over being feared and respected, his record of resiling from previous commitments since last December’s election, and his evident susceptibility to pressure, cannot but produce apprehension that potentially damaging last-minute concessions will be made, purely to avoid No Deal.
On relationships with our natural Anglosphere allies, Johnson has, according to The Times, ordered the No 10 team and key government departments to establish links with the Biden campaign team, citing private polling telling him that Trump is unlikely to be re-elected.
It isn’t hard to see where this could be going. Are they hoping to use the anti-Brexit and EU-favouring Biden’s hostility to a good US-UK trade deal as an excuse to make last-minute concessions to Brussels, and thus be ‘forced’ to concede a BRINO 2.0 that separates us much less from the EU?
On the other hand, if Trump does win, he’s unlikely to thank Johnson for cosying up to Biden in mid-campaign, and will be less inclined to give us a good US-UK trade deal. This, of course, can be also be used as the excuse for making last-minute concessions to Brussels and thus retaining a BRINO 2.0 that separates us much less from the EU.
All this will inevitably have electoral consequences. I warned about it on 7th October, but mainstream media commentators are now cottoning on to the prospect of Johnson’s Red Wall crumbling fast.
As Rachel Sylvester points out in The Times, backbench pressure from Tory MPs worried about retaining their seats is starting to crystallise. Johnson’s apparently cavalier attitude towards the travails his lockdowns risk inflicting on the North can only revive the tropes about the ‘Conservatives’ being solely a party for the affluent South, predicts Nick Cohen at The Spectator.
Seldom in modern political history can such a newly acquired electoral advantage have been so recklessly and needlessly squandered in so short a time. Whether it’s deliberate, accidental, or, as Mary Harrington argues persuasively over at UnHerd, Boris hasn’t recovered from Covid and, notwithstanding his colourful ‘I’m as fit as a butcher’s dog‘ metaphor, is actually suffering from Long-Covid, leaving us effectively leaderless, is a moot point.
However, I don’t believe Johnson cares overmuch about the potential electoral impact of all this on his party. I suspect he’s discovered that, in contrast to becoming PM, he doesn’t very much like actually being PM, because the job is too much like hard work, often involving having to choose that which he must judge is the least bad from several equally unpalatable and unpopular options.
Boris, on the other hand, as the only just released new biography of him by Tom Bower reveals, is not so much fundamentally lazy as chronically ill-disciplined and temperamentally disinclined to immerse himself in details. It’s easy to conclude that his innate desire to be popular rather than respected makes him find the stimulus and hyperbole of campaigning in purple poetry infinitely more agreeable than the more humdrum yet far more complicated business of governing in grey prose.
Moreover, he’s allegedly already complaining to friends about money: that becoming PM has left him significantly short of the income he needs to meet his ongoing financial liabilities which are the consequences of his louche, priapic, chaotic personal life. He knows he can make considerably more money as an ex-PM and journalist than as an incumbent PM. Presumably, he’ll claim ‘family reasons’ or something similar at the opportune moment.
I sincerely hope I’m wrong. But I fear we are about to be royally shafted on Brexit, just as Johnson is currently doing on Covid, immigration, Woke-ery and Green-ery. Messing up Brexit could even be his crowning excuse, and his chosen route out.
UPDATE: On Friday morning, in a development as surprising as it was welcome, Johnson announced that, unless the EU fundamentally changed its previously intransigent and uncooperative negotiating approach, Britain would conclude there was no prospect of an acceptable deal being agreed, and would therefore trade on WTO terms with effect from 1st January 2021.
If he means it, and sees it through, then I’ll be happy to admit I was wrong on this point.
However, the worry is that, despite it undoubtedly being the right thing to do, it might not be a statement of irrevocable intent by Johnson, but merely another negotiating tactic by a PM who has already allowed three deadlines he set to over-run without consequence, to be eventually diluted or discarded if it persuaded Brussels to return to the negotiating table in a more amenable frame of mind.
However, the likelihood of that diminished somewhat on Friday evening, when it was reported that our chief negotiator David Frost had told the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier not to even bother coming to London for more talks next week.
Former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith asserted, in The Sun on Sunday 18th November, that ‘Boris isn’t bluffing‘; that he really will go through with his threat to abandon negotiations and go for WTO on 1st January 2021 unless the EU grants Britain the same comprehensive free trade deal that it granted Canada.
Well, we shall see; after all, Johnson has bluffed for much of his life. Let’s hope this time he isn’t, and really means it.
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