Boris Johnson has penned a 4000 word piece about Brexit for The Telegraph (Update: now posted to Facebook as well). It’s a premium piece on their site for some reason and you have to hence register to read it – I did that, and have read it, and this blog is the result of analysing it paragraph by paragraph. Bear in mind however that this is not a fisk in the classic sense – there is so much waffle in the piece I cannot take apart every single paragraph. So think of this as a kind of fisk of the best and worst of it.

Also – as a summary of sorts – there is little new in Boris’s piece. He is committed to hard Brexit. He says nothing about transition periods. He makes nice noises but says nothing of substance on citizens rights. He says nothing about Ireland and the border (thanks Peter Geoghegan). And he fills out the rest of the 4000 words with nationalist guff.

But anyway, this is a fisk. So let’s get to it.

There are some media observers – in this country and around the world – who think we are going to bottle it.

Strike me that this is off. No-one thinks the British are going to bottle it. If anything it is the opposite – that the UK has excess confidence, not too much fear!

And then there were dyed-in-the-wool Europhiles, who thought Brussels was going too far and the only way to get change was to vote Leave.

This is just ridiculous, and I’d be fascinated to meet such a person. I think I can even count of the British Europhiles I know on the fingers of one hand.

Before the referendum, we all agreed on what leaving the EU logically must entail: leaving the customs union and the single market, leaving the penumbra of the European Court of Justice; taking back control of our borders, cash, laws.

This is absolutely, totally, categorically NOT the case. The referendum means the UK must leave the EU, but there was nothing in the referendum itself to be that prescriptive. I explain this in more depth here.

Overwhelmingly, I find that Leavers and Remainers are coming together

I would like to see some evidence of this. Opinion polls look as split as ever. Parliament is perhaps more united than it was, but this idea that there is a unity of purpose is miles from the mark. Also even if there is a consensus that Brexit has to happen I am pretty sure there is no consensus on what sort of Brexit.

you may remember how we were repeatedly assured that even if we were unhappy with the direction of the project, even if we disagreed with the concept of ever closer union, it was none the less worth putting up with it all for the sake of the influence we would have.

This implies that the EU was something done to the UK. As @EmporersNewC pointed out in this classic Twitter thread the UK was indeed successful at making major changes to the EU and how it works, but then changed its mind and blamed the EU instead. That is exactly what Boris is doing here.

Of course we should pay tribute to the patriotic British men and women who went out to Brussels and got stuck into those institutions […] And it is notable that today their numbers have diminished to the point where the UK represents 16 per cent of EU GDP and 13 per cent of the population but only 3.6 per cent of EU officials.

That says that the UK officials were pretty bad at passing the entrance examinations. And do not speak enough languages to be recruited. And the negative attitude towards the EU from people like Johnson himself surely did not help either.

If we had been asked to design the EU ourselves, on a blank sheet of paper, we would have nothing like the body that exists today. We tried so often to frustrate it.

This is such a ridiclous line. What would a UK designed EU look like? Oh, and the Single Market, a core component of the EU to this day was rather driven forward by Thatcher. Again this idea that the UK cannot change or influence the EU, denying when the UK actually did do that.

we tried to stop the expansion of majority voting.

No. Majority voting was central to the development of the Single Market through the Single European Act, and here Thatcher was in favour. Background here. And were unanimity to still apply in an EU of 28 Member States then Boris would be bemoaning the EU’s slow decision making and inefficiency.

it was about trussing the nations together in a gigantic and ever-tightening cat’s cradle of red tape

Yes. The big evil Delors cat’s cradle red tape monster! Waaah!

when push comes to shove, that apparent willingness to support the UK position is less powerful than the great centripetal force of integration. To every question, to every crisis – whether it is the euro or immigration – the answer is always the same: more Europe!

Again we have this assumption that the EU always does things to the UK, as if the EU somehow drives this integration aside from its Member States. Look at responses to Juncker’s state of the EU speech this week – loads of scepticism all over the place.

I look ahead over the next 15 years at what may be coming down the track: the push to create an economic government of Europe, the activism of the ECJ in all the new competences of the Lisbon Treaty

Is that it? The UK has an economic opt out from the Euro, and hence would play no role in economic government. So judicial activism of the ECJ is the biggest fear?

the logic of their ambition means trying to construct what is effectively a single polity out of 27 countries

This is such a straw man. Look at Scotland – it has been in a union with England since 1707, but it does not have its own polity? Or are the political methods and traditions of Spain and Lithuania subsumed into one?

We have spent too much time trying, and often failing, to exert influence in the meeting rooms of Brussels. That exercise has diverted massive quantities of the intellectual energy of the British government, and it has not helped us to address the real challenges this country faces.

UKRep has a couple of hundred staff. Add perhaps a couple of thousand who do EU work in part or full time in Whitehall. And those scant resources could have put Britain on a better path? That’s rubbish. And even out of the EU the UK cannot not deal with the EU, so resources will still be needed. And meanwhile Brexit itself needs masses of civil service resources.

On the contrary: unemployment is at record lows, and manufacturing is booming “in spite of Brexit”, as the BBC would put it.

Boris, you are the Foreign Secretary. And you are having cheap shots in a newspaper column about the BBC? Oh and meanwhile the UK has the slowest growth in the EU – unsurprisingly that was not mentioned by Boris.

But, of course, this country still has chronic problems, and at least some of them have been exacerbated by the rigidities of EU membership – and certainly by the way we have chosen legally to apply those obligations.

Our infrastructure is too expensive – and takes far longer than France or other countries.

France is in the EU. How does Boris even write these sentences one after the other?

Successive governments have failed to build enough homes […] we have yet to find a way of persuading middle-class kids that they might be just as well off getting a skill as a degree […] We do not conduct enough basic research in science […] The result of all these failings – over decades – is that we have low productivity: lower than France or Germany.

Repeat after me, Boris: France and Germany are in the EU. Britain does have those problems but NOT because of the EU!

I believe we have an immense can-do spirit. I have seen it in action. But we also have a truly phenomenal ability to delay and to rack up cost. We have been able to blame bureaucracy and to blame Brussels, and my point is that after Brexit we will no longer be able to blame anyone but ourselves.

Agh I despair. So Brexit is actually necessary because until now Britain has been incapable of coming to terms with its own problems? While a few sentences earlier you blamed the EU for the UK’s infrastructure costs.

We would not expect to pay for access to their markets any more than they would expect to pay for access to ours.

Note “access to” here. Canada does not pay to access EU markets either. But if the UK had a Canada option that’s a very hard Brexit and has associated economic costs. Sounds like a nice line, but belies the complexity of this.

And yes – once we have settled our accounts, we will take back control of roughly £350 million per week. It would be a fine thing, as many of us have pointed out, if a lot of that money went on the NHS

This is just about true actually, as the UK contributes roughly that amount gross to the EU. And he loosens the commitment to how much of it would go on the NHS. As I point out in point 6 here, giving the NHS £350m a week more is going to happen within a decade anyway – it just won’t be money saved from the EU.

Our systems of standards will remain absolutely flush with the rest of the EU […] But over time we will be able to diverge from the great accumulated conglomerate, to act with regulatory freedom.

(note: I diverge from the chronological order of the piece here) So which is it then? Are the standards the same, or are they to diverge?

whether you believe such notable authorities as Peter Mandelson, who once claimed that EU regulation cost us 4 per cent of GDP, or Gordon Brown, who said the cost was nearer 7 per cent

Mandelson seems to have said this in 2004, and I can only find it quoted on UKIP blogs and from Roger Helmer. I can’t even find a source for the Gordon Brown figure. Plus were these figures even true, how much of this would UK businesses still have to deal with after Brexit? And what about the economic benefits of the Single Market?

At the stroke of a pen, for instance, the Chancellor will be able to cut VAT on tampons. This is often demanded by Parliament but – absurdly – it is legally impossible to deliver.

This issue was sorted between David Cameron and the Commission before the referendum. Next.

business will no longer be able to use immigration as an excuse not to invest in the young people of this country

Is business actually really genuinely doing this? I am not sure businesses would use that line in that way. The state also has a responsibility here.

And I can think of obvious ways in which Brexit can help us tackle the housing crisis […] There may be ways of simplifying planning procedures, post-Brexit, and abbreviating impact assessments, without in any way compromising the environment.

Boris: do other EU countries have housing crises like the UK’s? No, not in the same way. So perhaps have a think about what else the UK could do? And which country was keenest of impact assessments in EU law? Oh, the UK. Well I never.

We should seize the opportunity of Brexit to reform our tax system. Andy Haldane, the Bank of England’s chief economist, argued in 2015 that our system is currently skewed so as to discourage investment. He believes that reform could raise output by around 20 per cent.

Output of what? By whom? And is the EU at fault for it not happening? (Update: Chris Giles takes this one apart in a Twitter thread here)

This is our chance to catch the wave of new technology, and to put Britain in the lead

Do tell me, please tell me, why is the EU stopping this?

People often ask themselves why the EU has failed to produced a single major tech giant on the scale of those found in America. Well, part of the answer may be found in the statist and top-down approach that characterises the thinking of the Commission.

Or not. This is just prejudice. Yes, all EU countries could be better here, but slating the Commission for this is just cheap.

Have you ever wondered what happened to Minitel, the state-owned and managed French equivalent of Google?

Have you ever wondered what happened to the Amstrad CPC 464? Or the Atari? Or the BBC B Micro?

There are in fact four zones of the world where big tech investments are made: Boston, Silicon Valley, Shanghai and the triangle formed by London, Oxford and Cambridge.

Oh. While the UK was in the EU. But you just said that Brexit was to help the UK make a success of its tech. Now I am lost.

we will be able to get on and do free-trade deals, to campaign for free trade that has lifted billions out of poverty, which so badly needs a new champion

So that EU that has sorted a deal with Canada, is finalising one with Japan, starting with Australia and New Zealand… no advocate? And the UK can be a champion of that having ended the deepest trade relationship it ever had – with the EU?

Britain’s success will not be a bad thing for our friends across the Channel. On the contrary, it will mean a bigger market in the UK for everything from Italian cars to German wine.

Ah. Innovative! It’s Riesling and Fiat today. Prosecco and BMWs are so yesterday. Seriously though, the economic consensus is that Hard Brexit is bad for the UK economy, so how is Boris claiming this?

We have a glorious future – but hardly any of this would be possible under the bizarre and incoherent plans of the Labour Party […] Now it appears he wants to remain in the single market and the customs union. In other words, he would make a complete mockery of Brexit, and turn an opportunity into a national humiliation.

Ah. Not leaving the Single Market is a national humiliation. That’s even stronger than the usual saboteur language used against the Remain side. The rest of the EU if anything would see this as sensible – the UK not burning all its bridges.

I look at so many young people with the 12 stars lipsticked on their faces and I am troubled with the thought that people are beginning to have genuinely split allegiances. […] You don’t have to be some tub-thumping nationalist to worry that a transnational sense of allegiance can weaken the ties between us; and you don’t have to be an out‑and‑out nationalist to feel an immense pride in this country and what it can do.

So Brexit is essentially nationalism, and exclusionary nationalism. Again all of this is so us-versus-them. Is it really impossible to have some allegiance to Glasgow, Scotland, the UK, and Europe? Is that such a bad thing? But at least here this gives some insight into Boris’s mentality.

Look at Canary Wharf – a banking district now bigger than Frankfurt itself.

Oh. I assume he doesn’t mean geographically? Or does he?

I was proud to be mayor of the greatest city on Earth, and I believe we can be the greatest country on Earth.

Make Britain Great Again!

[Update 16.9.17, 1400]
Faisal Islam has done a Twitter thread about Boris. It has figures to disprove the £350m figure in this tweet:

[Update 16.9.17, 1845]
Boris can manage to unite people… in their critique of him! Even Iain Martin’s outfit reaction.life has a piece that’s very tough in its critique of Johnson’s essay! Weirdly Cathy Newman seems to like Johnson’s piece though, and she is normally sensible.

[Update 16.9.17, 1900]
Dr. Zog on Twitter rightly points out that the impact of Brexit is actually bad for housing in that it exacerbates the skills shortage in the construction industry.

Steve Analyst also points me to where the UK has been the advocate of more Qualified Majority Voting, underlining a point I make above.

12 Comments

  1. Good article, Jon. However, you state ‘The referendum means the UK must leave the EU…’
    It was advisory. We can change our minds.

  2. Truly Splendid Chap, this Boris. We’ll teach the Bosch a thing or two! All this nit-picking is so tedious. It’s a broad vision of our glorious future that is needed! Carry on and keep your chins up! It’s time for the Charge of the Brexit Brigade!

  3. Fergal

    “This is just about true actually, as the UK contributes roughly that amount gross to the EU.”

    So, you think the EU will continue paying the UK its rebate, after it leaves!?!?

    • Eh? No. Of course not. That’s why using the gross figure makes no sense. But what Johnson has actually done here is make this commitment to divert money to the NHS less concrete than in the Leave campaign.

  4. Great article, but you should really have added a line about his vision on education. As far as I remember, he wrote: “there are so many middle class teens who should go for skills rather than a degree”. In other words, leave university degrees for Etonians and upper class, and don’t shuffle our social organization. Idyllic vision of the future, isn’t it?

  5. Arnold

    “Our infrastructure is too expensive”
    Isn’t much of it foreign owned since privatisation?
    “– and takes far longer than France or other countries.”
    How can infrastructure do that?

  6. Rosalind Stewart

    Thank you, Jon, for bothering to fisk this blatantly absurd article by BoJo. It was so ridiculous that when I read it, I thought surely no one will take this seriously. But in case they do, I will refer your analysis to them. Thanks for the hard work!

  7. £153m/week is what the UK has paid for EU membership over the last year. So Boris is asking for £197m/week for free from the EU to support the NHS.

    Everything is possible in Borisworld!

  8. Boris slagging off Minitel is another sign of his ignorance – it was immensely successful, being used regularly by millions, and lasted for around 30 years. If anything, it was a triumph of state intervention.

    It was of course superseded by the Web, which was only so successful because its copyright holder, Tim Berners-Lee, made the platform free to use for everyone. Again, Boris’s boner for the free market seems somewhat misguided. Of course, TBL didn’t develop the Web in Thatcher’s Britain, but abroad at CERN; it seems a lot of British talent will be following his example, thanks in part to mountebanks like Boris Johnson.

  9. This is very useful – and there is something new here Jon.

    Johnson mentions “abbreviating impact assessments” to “simplify planning procedures.” To me, this can only refer to either the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive or the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive. Both play essential roles in infrastructure, housing development and other types of development. They are enshrined in the National Planning Policy Framework; and they are also instrumental in the implementation of other EU environmental law, such as relates to wildlife protection, waste disposal, nuclear energy etc.

    This is exactly the sort of thing that makes the Withdrawal Bill power grab so worrying. If it was a question of just transferring all the EU-derived domestic legislation across into domestic law., then there would be no question of amending these impact assessment procedures.

  10. M Lloyd

    Wow. Not read the article by BdFJ, but this is comprehensive and damning of his continuing adaptation of facts to suit his mental wishlist. Maybe poor old Foreign Minister is conscious of his faux pas in submitting the wrong letter to DC in the Ref campaign and is still peddling paper-thin justifications.
    Congrats on this.

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