Friday, 15 July 2016
Cordon Sanitaire de Boris
There's a beautiful irony about the hysterical reaction from some about the appointment of Boris to the position of Foreign Secretary. The man often accused of buffoonery is the subject of the most ridiculous and exaggerated claims from across Europe and here at home. Angela Eagle's hilarious reaction on hearing his appointment has made all the news programmes today, yet it made no sense. Boris is a highly educated, multi-lingual, former Brussels correspondent, former magazine editor, highly remunerated columnist and victorious Brexiter. He is a perfectly natural choice as Foreign Secretary.
Yet the reaction from Eagle was by no means isolated. Newsnight immediately dredged up some old quotes from Boris. Journalists are currently trawling through old newspaper and magazine articles to find his most quote worthy and undiplomatic words - anyone who has ever written for a living or tried to do so knows that you increasingly have to outrage at least a little to make any headway these days. Fine words don't necessarily do the trick.
I particularly enjoyed the assertion that it was somehow outrageous that Boris kept a long planned appointment to play cricket the day after the referendum. What else was he supposed to do? Don a tin hat and dig a fallout shelter? Hire a removal van and start packing our goods and chattels so that we could remove ourselves immediately? A similar claim was made that it was somehow wrong for Boris to withdraw from his party's leadership race when it became clear he had insufficient support. Again, what else was he supposed to do?
There seems to be a lot of schadenfreude being enjoyed across at least part of the EU at the small amount of chaos we have endured in Britain since the referendum. This was, as this blog predicted well in advance of the vote itself when I was one of a few lonely voices confidently predicting a Leave victory, inevitable. In truth it hasn't been that bad. The pound bombed for a while and is now coming back up. The stock market panicked as it always does and has since recovered its composure. Most importantly the Bank of England decided against a much anticipated interest cut yesterday because we just don't know what is happening yet. It's too early to say. It may be that nothing much is happening except that some people are believing the jeremiahs and imagining something catastrophic will happen. But what? What do they think will happen for crying out loud?
Because in truth nothing has changed. Things are going to change of course. The British system has worked remarkably well and we now have a new prime minister in place. She has wasted no time appointing a new cabinet and a new Chancellor of the Exchequer who has rightly said that there is really no need for an emergency budget, no need for panic measures, we had better just wait and see, enjoy the summer (such as it is) and stop worrying so much. The cool, calm demeanour of our new prime minister and her obvious determination to enact change is refreshing and invigorating. She is so far more that justifying our faith in her.
And the appointment of Boris alongside David Davis and Liam Fox is a further sign that we are getting on with things. More than that, it is a sign that we will not be pushed around or bullied into doing too early what we would be well advised to hold off until we are ready. The snide reaction of Boris's French counterpart, Jean-Marc Ayrault and of Frank Walter Steinmeier of Germany is typically dishonest and typically cognitively dissonant. It speaks of the same old arrogance, the same old detachment from reality.
Instead of acknowledging the unhappiness of millions of people across Europe and here in Britain, they have decided on a narrative that we were all fooled by Boris and co and their lies. But which lies do they have in mind? How would they feel if I countered that the British people are quite capable of filtering this information for ourselves, that our unhappiness with the EU is longstanding and entrenched and that the Remain side were incapable of offering any positive reasons for staying in the EU and so had to engage in a campaign of lies themselves. George Osborne famously told the country he would inflict a punishment budget on us if we voted to leave. How does that fit on the spectrum of lies? Alongside the 3 million jobs lie? Or the lies about war and security?
In truth the Leave campaign won despite having the government machine ranged against it and much of the establishment. It won, not because of lies, but because the British people resent and are angry with the EU and its arrogant disdain for public opinion. The Remain side had all the advantages and yet still lost. There is a lesson there if only the EU would listen. Instead they prefer to kid themselves that it was all due to lies.
Instead they are telling themselves that we are going to get our comeuppance for our treachery and disobedience. Yet, though it has certainly been an uncomfortable couple of weeks, the period of uncertainty, though it is not over, has probably peaked. Many of us argued that the 2 months of proposed campaigning for someone to take over from David Cameron was too much. Happily good sense has prevailed. Now we have a new government being formed, new ministers reading their red boxes of files and getting up to speed. And we have new ministries being formed to take on the issue of Brexit and ensure that it happens just as the British people have demanded. That is why the EU is so dyspeptic. It has got an answer it does not like and cannot see any way this time of forcing us to have a rethink as it has others in the past. No means no. Brexit means Brexit. It's no wonder they are so grumpy.
And the worst thing for them is that they know damned well that we will probably get a deal in the end. Why? Because the EU, for all its talk of solidarity, is always trumped by national interest. The French, who do so like to lecture the rest of the continent, are the worst offenders. That is why the parliament shuttles between Brussels and Strasbourg after all and why the Common Agricultural Policy is so unreformable. Britain will get its deal and we will be freed from the EU's shackles. Its quite possible we will have free trade deals with a number of other countries in short order too. If our new Chancellor, after taking his time to look over the books, decides on a programme of investment and tax reforms and cuts there may well be many other countries casting envious eyes our way and thinking of joining in.
The period of uncertainty is coming to an end. Now let the optimism flow. And let's enjoy the fact we have Boris as Foreign Secretary. Oh and it annoys the French.