The flies are rounding on Boris. None of the cabinet herd would dare match themselves against him on their own – they don’t have the guts, but they can take him down in a coordinated ambush, cowering behind Mrs May’s wretched discredited Chequers plan. Few of them believe in it, but she’s not for changing, and so they dutifully fall into line. Never mind betraying the will of the nation when ministerial careers and leadership prospects are at stake.
The tragedy is that Brexit needed a charismatic leader, a buccaneer, a visionary with a grasp of the big picture. Nearly all the defects of character, the errors of judgement, the romantic delusions attributed to Boris could be, and were, attributed to Churchill. He was an incurable romantic prey to hare-brained and impractical schemes. He made the most appalling mistakes and misjudgements. He rarely troubled to master the finer details. He was vain, moody, impulsive and utterly impossible to work with. During the war, he drove his right-hand man, Alanbrooke, the dour and brilliant master of detail, to despair. But Churchill had a matchless grasp of the bigger picture, he made the right calls when it mattered, and, in the end, he was the saviour of his country. Denis Healey put it very well: Churchill had every vice and every weakness; but these were outweighed by his magnificent virtues and strengths. Of course, Churchill appointed Alanbrooke his Chief of the Imperial General Staff, his most trusted confidant and advisor, precisely because he knew that ‘Brookie’ would stand up to him and tell it as it was: ‘When I thump the table and push my face towards him what does he do? Thumps the table harder and glares back at me’.
Real leaders choose their advisors well, and when it counts, they know to listen. Not Mrs May, the petulant schoolmistress who can brook no opposition, who is incapable of engaging in argument or debate, whose resort to vacuous platitudes and stock slogans, mechanically repeated, and repeated, and repeated, reveals a desperate poverty of intellect and imagination.
Yet her ministers are rallying behind her. The line being peddled at conference is that she was wronged at Salzburg by the beastly Europeans, and it is they who must either back down or come up with an alternative – otherwise she will walk away! The party must get behind her as she ‘stands up’ to the ‘EU bully boys’. Minister after minister is railing against the EU’s intransigence. It is they who must now compromise! Cue applause. We will not be pushed around! Cue applause. Dominic Raab took the biscuit today when he castigated the EU for its ‘one-sided approach to negotiation’. He went on, ‘If the EU want a deal, they need to get serious. And they need to do it now.’ Cue more applause. ‘If we can’t obtain a deal … then we will be left with no choice but to leave with no deal.’ Cue thunderous applause.
Who are they trying to kid with this pantomime? May has no intention of walking away with no deal. The necessary preparations have intentionally not been made, and the government continues to do everything in its power to depict the prospect of no deal on WTO rules as calamitous. Knowing this, the Europeans have no reason to compromise. Indeed, they have no reason to come up with an alternative other than the free trade deal they have already offered. Why on earth should they compromise the integrity of the single market or allow the UK a competitive advantage?
We know where sticking with Chequers will lead. At the eleventh hour, and after another bout of concessions on our side, all delivered in ‘the national interest’, Mrs May will return from Brussels flourishing a piece of paper bearing Michel Barnier’s signature. With no time to prepare for any other option, Parliament will be faced with a fait accompli. There will be some window dressing but essentially it will be a Norway deal, involving staying in the single market and customs union, along with free movement, the EU’s preferred option because it preserves the integrity of the single market’s four freedoms. Though de facto members of the EU, we will have no say in its governance – and we will have paid £40 billion for the privilege.
A super Canada free trade deal, the only alternative to the Chequers Norway option, is ruled out by May because it would ‘divide’ our kingdom (the beastly Europeans again) and threaten integrated ‘just-in-time’ supply chains which depend on a frictionless border. But as Boris Johnson outlined in a lucid and detailed essay for the Telegraph on Friday, both problems are resolvable if there is a will. The Irish border problem was manufactured by the EU to force the British to accept remaining in the customs union, the Irish ‘backstop’ arrangement foolishly conceded by Mrs May as part of the withdrawal agreement apparently rendering a free trade deal impossible without ‘a hard border’ in Ireland. We must therefore renegotiate the withdrawal agreement so that the backstop arrangement is removed, leaving the border question to be settled as part of the economic deal. As for the friction costs associated with ‘hard’ borders, these can be dramatically reduced through the implementation of digital blockchain technology, which has been piloted in the Far East and is coming on stream. The withdrawal agreement, then, must be accompanied by a political declaration committing both sides ‘to use the implementation period to negotiate and bring into force a Super Canada-type free trade agreement’. And no money should be handed over until agreement is reached.
Johnson is the only politician with the guts to openly challenge Mrs May’s ‘Brexit vision’. His analysis of what has gone wrong is lucid and compelling. His proposals are clear and practical. And he has the vision and the will to carry them through. But it is manifestly clear from Johnson’s analysis that if there is to be a Canada-style deal, if we are to implement Brexit, and if we are to re-negotiate the withdrawal agreement by the deadline of March 29 next year, then we must change course now. A leadership challenge must therefore be mounted without delay.
The odds are against him. But the people are behind him.
Go for it, Boris!