EU Referendum

Brexit: parochial English and an uppity Frenchman


After the oaf Johnson yesterday refused to rule out challenging Mrs May for the leadership of the Conservative Party, some sense at last seems to be filtering through the system. This comes in an article in The Times what has former Tory deputy chairman Sir Alan Duncan declaring that Tory MPs will never let the Johnson lead the party.

The former foreign secretary, he says, mistakenly believes he can become "Britain's Trump" but has spent all his electoral appeal. His attacks on Theresa May risk seriously damaging the Conservatives and the country.

In a devastating attack on his former boss, he rates him as "an enormous character" but not "a team player", nor "intellectually focused". Further, "he's got a very untidy mind. And he doesn't know if he's a journalist or a politician - but he does know it's all about him".

Regarding Johnson's latest Brexit intervention, Duncan dismisses it as "doubling down into deeper nonsense". Twisting the dagger, he then says: "The more he repeats what everyone can see is not credible the more his own credibility disappears".

As for "his supposed solution", this is "neither workable nor on offer". Says Duncan, "If he thinks he can go into the conference and undermine [Mrs May] I think he's kidding himself. I think the party will be for her and not for him".

If that is the case, we will find out very soon, in which case Duncan's advice to Johnson is sound. He urges Johnson to abandon his ambition to lead the Tories, saying that he would fail to secure the nominations of enough colleagues at parliament. But even if he did, the Tory grassroots would not vote for someone so "reckless". If he pursued his course of action, "He risks bringing everything down".

Addressing party members, he asks them to realise that if they side with those who would attack Theresa May, "they are siding with a course of events which could destroy our prospects for many, many, many years and not be in the national interest".

Duncan is joined by Chris Heaton-Harris, a Brexit minister, who agrees that Johnson's "plan" is neither workable nor negotiable. "No deal is available without a guarantee that there would be no hard border in Northern Ireland in any eventuality, the so-called Irish backstop", he says.

And to complete a critical triumvirate, a government source adds that Johnson "was a member of the cabinet that agreed the December Joint Report - and praised the PM for doing so - and was part of the committee that agreed the customs backstop".

He adds: "The truth is that reneging on those two things would simply guarantee no deal. So this is just another very lengthy article which doesn't offer any answers, rather it regurgitates ideas which would damage our Union of nations and put jobs at risk".

In a sensible world, that would be the end of it, especially when one views the bumbling performance of Johnson when confronted with detail. The man isn't even sound on generalities and if someone would take him to task on his views on mutual recognition of standards, he would most surely fold.

Even without him, when his moronic supporter argues in public that "it is the Germans who usually have the casting vote on key European affairs and will do so on Britain’s exit", it is time to call it a day.

But then, if this was a sensible world, we would not have got into this mess in the first place. The charlatan would not have got as far as he has done; his supporters might have acquired some sense. And it is all very well seeing off Johnson – if, indeed, that is successful. But that still leaves Mrs May with her unworkable Chequers plan, and a clock ticking down to doomsday.

I don't know even if there is any comfort to be taken from the additional support of Sir John Major, who has rounded on the coterie of Theresa May's Brexiters, saying that their behaviour towards her goes far beyond acceptable political conduct.

Lambasting their "daily taunts and dishonesty", combined with a failure to come up with any coherent plan, Sir John said that her Brexit adversaries - whom he did not name, - were attacking Mrs May in a "lurid" fashion and were acting in effect as a party within a party.

This came last night at a public event in South Shields, as recorded by The Financial Times and it seems that the "ultras" are not the only ones who can co-ordinate a media response. And at least some of Sir John's words will have some resonance, when he expresses concern at the way "the prime minister is being attacked by some members of her own party".

It is very much in the nature of the Conservative Party, if it re-asserts itself, that party unity prevails at conference. So it could well be that Johnson has overplayed his hand. Having staked out his claim, he cannot keep playing the odds. At best he is a wasting asset and, if his moment hasn't already passed, it has not much longer to run.

What is different now, though, is that matters cannot be resolved by the parties patching up their differences and agreeing to work together. Beyond the horizon, there is the looming presence of Brussels and it appears that British politicians still haven't learnt the lesson that they can't fudge EU issues.

Thus, even if the outcome of the Conference is for the party to unite behind their prime minister and a single Brexit plan, this is not going to wash with the EU negotiating team. They will be looking to the longer term resolution of Brexit and will not be in the least interested in solving internal Tory party strife.

For once in their lives, therefore, British politicians will need to wake up to the singular fact that there is life outside Westminster and that there are tougher things in politics than an interview with Laura Kuenssberg. M. Barnier and his team are the ones that have to be satisfied.

That much, though, they seem incapable of learning. If they were, surely they would have learnt by now and would not be pursuing the almost child-like tactic of demanding compromises from the EU in return for notional compromises from Team UK – especially when the expectation is potentially damaging to the integrity of the Single Market.

Illustrating the great chasm, we have Liam Fox wibbling about the EU driving the UK towards a no-deal Brexit with its "intransigence", putting the "abstract purity" of the European project ahead of its own economic interests.

However, at least this one politician appears to understand a crucial point. He believes that the Government must now start detailing in public just how bad a no-deal Brexit would be, but then you realise that he hasn't joined up the dots after all. He is talking about the effect on the EU.

"I think", he says – unconscious of the exaggeration – "that it's time we started in public to make that case for why no deal would be economically harmful for European businesses". Fox concedes that, "It would be harmful to British businesses", which is why, he says, "it's better we get a deal". But he goes on to say that: "It's utterly fanciful that 'no deal' would not hurt our European trading partners".

There's an element of "straw man" here, in that few if any are arguing that the EU can escape a "no deal" scenario without damage. Furthermore, the "colleagues" have made it quite clear that they are prepared to take a "hit" rather than sustain damage to the Single Market.

Thus, there is no political gain to be made from accentuating the effects of a "no deal" on mainland Europe – and especially so as the European Commission seems to be in the advanced stages of preparing detailed contingency plans.

What should be done, of course, is properly to identify the full extent of the adverse effects of a "no deal" on the UK economy. As long as the weasel-worded "technical notices" continue, with no continuous effort from government, the enormity of the potential damage will not be appreciated.

The other thing that needs to be done is for Emmanuel Macron to shut up. He may be right in saying that Brexit is much more complicated than [some] Leave voters realised. He could even be right – although this has yet to be demonstrated – that Brexit could "for sure” be stopped.

But the very last thing that is going to have a benign effect on the coming round of talks is for an uppity French politician sounding off. The UK had enough with Charles "deux metres" de Gaulle, and a repeat is not going to go down well.

Macron does say that he does not want to meddle in the debate surrounding a fresh vote, saying: "I'm not the one to decide such a move and I do respect the choice of British voters. So I don’t want to interfere in this debate about a second referendum and so on". All he needs to do here is stick to his word.

If we're squeezed between the parochial English and an uppity Frenchman, we can only fail.