In defence of Boris

The now (in)famous article Boris Johnson wrote about Brexit in the Telegraph (on his Facebook page here) has been presented entirely in political terms. It was an attack on Theresa May, an act of disloyalty or treachery, a sackable offence, the outcome of blind ambition and his positioning for a leadership challenge.

Well ok, maybe it was such a challenge and then again, maybe it wasn’t. But what was so wrong with the article itself to have provoked such apoplexy?

For it was no more or less than a passionate reaffirmation of what Britain stands to gain from Brexit, an attack on the all-over-the-place Labour Party for betraying the millions of Labour supporters who voted for Brexit, and a robust rebuke to the chorus of obsessive, chattering-class doom-mongers who are bombarding the country with their relentless negativity and predictions of apocalypse now and for all time as a result of the British regaining democratic control of their country.

What’s wrong with any of that?

Most of the article was about the attractive possibilities for Britain after it shrugs off the EU bureaucratic and regulatory straitjacket. Wrote Boris:

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The Telegraph – Brexit Bulletin

Good afternoon.

Boris Johnson ended speculation that he had been sidelined in the campaign with by making a typically bombastic intervention. His attack this morning on “ mutton-headed old mugwump” Jeremy Corbyn stuck out, with Labour’s John Healey suggesting that such an attack “demeaned” the office of Foreign Secretary. The term, which Nicholas Soames once used against him, was a topic of discussion in many of his interviews this morning.

John Humphrys managed to ask about serious policy issues too, although Michael Deacon noticed that he was left floundering in his attempts to control the conversation. “Mr Johnson was supposed to be shedding light on the Government’s plans for Brexit, but instead he was setting forth the innumerable demerits of Jeremy Corbyn,” he wrote.

Mr Johnson’s attack may have been colourful, as my colleague Laurence Dodds noted that the term mugwump harks back to Willy Wonka, Harry Potter and 19th century American politics. But will it be effective? Jane Merrick thinks so, as she writes that his “choice of indelicate, colourful language has been turned into a strength by turning its fire on Corbyn’s leadership and personality”. The end result, she says, is that he has “hit his mark”.

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The Telegraph – Brexit Bulletin

  Good afternoon.

Parliament is winding down this week, so Jeremy Corbyn faced off against Theresa May today for the final time before the General Election. The Labour leader returned to his favoured tactic of asking questions inspired by letters from members of the public, raising issues like the NHS and housing. The cast he presented included Sybil, Andy and Maureen. “If I were you I’d listen to what Maureen says”  he at one point warned ominously.

The Prime Minister had little cause for concern, ridiculing her opposite number as “simply not up to the job” and “not fit to run this country”. She wrongfooted him in the end by seizing on a website tweeted by Diane Abbott called “I like Corbyn, but” which highlighted concerns about him like “I’ve heard he’s a terrorist sympathiser”. “Even a Labour wipe-out in June might not lead to a recasting of this most predictable of weekly jousts,” Tom Harris wrote in his review. She was more rattled by the SNP, as she failed to give its leader in Westminster Angus Robertson an “unambiguous” guarantee that the triple lock on pensions would continue. The Tories made sure those watching knew what their election offer was. Mrs May said “strong and stable” a total of 10 times during this epic double-length PMQs (the number of mentions climbs to 16 if you add the times Tory MPs said it). Such devotion to the message may be why the party has preferred to put forward drier figures like Michael Fallon and Philip Hammond on media rounds rather than Boris Johnson. “He’ll be doing a lot of foreign trips in the next few weeks,” joked one Tory colleague to Sky News.

Are campaign chiefs worried about Mr Johnson undermining their efforts to seem managerial? Perhaps they fear he will make a fruity joke, or wave a brick around again, but there is a palpable risk in being boring and not making use of Mr Johnson’s charisma on the campaign trail. Theresa May “needs the public to be excited by the choices on offer. Boris stirs excitement,” Rupert Myers writes. He showed during the EU referendum and twice during Mayoral campaigns that he can be disciplined, so “if the Prime Minister trusts him with Britain’s diplomacy, then surely she can trust him to campaign in both her and the nation’s interest.” Mr Johnson is making his first major appearance tonight speaking at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet, and is set to go on a media round tomorrow. Mrs May is now releasing her blond bombshell.

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The Telegraph – Brexit Bulletin

Good afternoon.

There is no set way for a party leader to behave on stepping down. Some prefer to hold their tongue in retirement and speak up on select occasions. This has been Sir John Major’s approach, after he declared on leaving Downing Street: “When the curtain falls, it is time to get off the stage—and that is what I propose to do”. His intervention on Brexit last night has not escaped criticism though, as Boris Johnson used his address to the British Chambers of Commerce this afternoon to mock the “ prognostications of gloom“. The Foreign Secretary’s rebuke was much more diplomatic than the response given by the likes of Iain Duncan Smith, which led James Kirkup to lament their tendency to resort to “personal vitriol” and “talk of plots”.

Sir John Major prefers as a former party leader to hold fire, so as to maximize his impact when he goes in all-guns blazing. Nigel Farage’s strategy could not be more different, as he has kept up a sustained barrage since stepping down. His latest target is one of his favourites – Douglas Carswell. The Ukip MP has earned his ire now after emails leaked to the Telegraph suggested he was not pushing wholeheartedly for Mr Farage to receive a knighthood. The messages were proof, Mr Farage declared, that he was “consumed with jealousy and a desire to hurt me”.

The former Ukip leader wants his successor, Paul Nuttall, to punish Mr Carswell by kicking him out of the party. The Clacton MP should be meeting with party chairman Paul Oakden this afternoon, so disciplinary action could be in the offing. But Mr Nuttall knows that if does sack Mr Carswell, as I’ve written online, he would inevitably re-open the splits that he had only just managed to cover. Meanwhile if he doesn’t, Faragistas will take this as proof that he is working with Mr Carswell and his “elitist cabal” ( as one Ukip MEP put it) to desecrate Mr Farage’s legacy.

As Paul Nuttall works out how to appease the Carswellites and the Faragistas, he must be wishing that his predecessor wasn’t quite so eager to stir things up.

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The Telegraph – Brexit Bulletin

  Good afternoon.

Tony Blair is back, and he’s on a mission to re-educate the British public about why they were wrong to vote for Brexit. “This is not the time for retreat, indifference or despair; but the time to rise up in defence of what we believe,” he told his pro-European flock in London this morning. The former Prime Minister insisted that the referendum vote had been “based on imperfect knowledge”, and held out the prospect of Britain backtracking on its decision once it had become “informed” of what the consequences of leaving would be. This drew a fierce reaction from Boris Johnson, who accused Mr Blair of “insulting the intelligence” of the British people. He added: “I urge the British people to rise up and turn off the TV next time Tony Blair comes on with his condescending campaign.”

The Foreign Secretary and his fellow Brexiteers are annoyed by his intervention, but in private they may secretly be grateful for his continued enthusiasm. As I pointed out online, voters tend to distrust Mr Blair more than they trust him when he speaks about the EU. So if he is the figurehead for the anti-Brexit movement, Leavers will be happy.

Labour has tried to shrug off Mr Blair’s intervention, as it knows how unhelpful it could be as it tries to convince voters that it understands them on Brexit in Stoke and Copeland. “Blair built his political reputation – and Labour’s election victories – on his ability to “get it”, to understand working people’s priorities and their motivations,” Tom Harris writes. “He should retrieve those unerring political antennae out of whatever cupboard he left them in 2007 and dust them down.”

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Morning Briefing – The Telegraph

Good morning.

Parliamentary business is starting to wind down as MPs prepare for Christmas recess next week. Theresa May faces her final Prime Minister’s Question Time today for the year. But her in-tray remains as packed as ever, so there will be little time for jollity.

Following yesterday’s Commons debate on Syria, MPs will certainly want to ask the Prime Minister about the plight of war-torn Aleppo. Boris Johnson insisted that the government had been trying to reduce the suffering there with “every diplomatic lever at our disposal”, while Andrew Mitchell and George Osborne – speaking for the first time from the backbenches in 13 years – lamented Britain’s inaction.

Many Britons will share their concern, although some will be more annoyed about issues closer to home, like the ongoing rail strikes. The walkout by drivers and conductors on the Southern Rail line crippled more than 400 miles of track and 156 stations throughout Sussex, Surrey, Kent and other home counties, forcing trains to be cancelled for 300,000 commuters yesterday. Those affected won’t be too happy to know that they’ll be paying for this disruption, as the taxpayer has to pick up the £50 million bill.

The scale of disruption has prompted ministers to consider what action they can take to rein in the trade unions. Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said he would take a “careful look” at strike laws after the dispute ends. Tory MPs are increasingly suspicion that the unions are using coordinated action as part of a political campaign against the Conservative government. They won’t be reassured then by the Mail’s profile of the strike leaders, which found that one Aslef chief refers to Jeremy Corbyn as “the Messiah”. The strike action will continue today, and on Friday, followed by a further wave in the run-up to Christmas and the New Year, so this issue has longer to run

The Brexit process continues in the meantime. Boris Johnson used the Foreign Office’s Christmas party last night to joke about the recent row he was caught up in about whether or not he backed European free movement. “I’m in favour of free drinks, which you are all enjoying tonight, but I’m not necessarily in favour of freedom of movement,” he told those assembled. He also banged the drum for Brexit, declaring that Britain has to be “more energetic, more outward looking, more engaged with the world” outside of the EU. But when will it get there? Philip Hammond suggested that Britain should seek a transitional deal as part of a “smooth departure” that would take longer than two years. But some Brexiteers will worry that the Brexit he wants is so soft that it is barely an exit at all. He may win support from David Davis, as we report that the Brexit secretary privately accepts that Britain may have to enter into a transitional agreement to bridge the gap between a formal exit and the start of new trading relationships. Might he hint at this in public later this afternoon in front of the Exiting the EU Select Committee?

Philip Johnston defends Hammond’s stance on Brexit in today’s paper, but suggests he will need to show his “Eeyorish” rhetoric isn’t a sign of reluctance. “For now, Mr Hammond’s is the voice of common sense. But it wouldn’t take much for him to become Fainthearted Phil,” he warns.

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Morning Briefing – The Telegraph

Good morning.

By-elections are ideal moments for voters to make their feelings known about the issues of the day, so Brexit is practically unavoidable. Few places are more Remain-friendly than Richmond Park, so it’s little surprise that residents took the chance to ditch Brexiteer Zac Goldsmith. The mood is palpably different in Sleaford and North Hykeham, where around 60% voted Leave. The Conservatives comfortably held onto it last night, winning around 13,000 more than Ukip, who came in second. This will reassure Theresa May, given that the contest was triggered by Stephen Phillips over “irreconcilable policy differences” with the Government on issues including the handling of Brexit. Voters had a chance to register their annoyance with how she was managing it, but stuck with her party. However, Ukip’s popularity will only grow if voters feel like she is dragging her feet. The Liberal Democrats wouldn’t have expected to take a seat like this, but they did push Labour – which had come second at 2015 general election – into fourth place. Remain-inclined voters have worked out who to back in these contests

Now the by-elections are out of the way, Mrs May’s attention will turn to the Supreme Court and, ultimately, Europe. The Government’s lawyer urged the 11 justices at the end of a four-day hearing to take account of Wednesday’s Commons vote backing the triggering of Article 50 by the end of March when it rules on whether the Prime Minister has to win Parliament’s backing to invoke it. James Eadie QC told them that the motion was “highly significant…because Parliament has given specific approval… to give that notice”. The Supreme Court will decide if it agrees in the new year.

 In the meantime the European Central bank is trying to put the eurozone back on its feet. Mario Draghi’s bond tapering means – as Ambrose Evans-Pritchard puts it – that “the comfort blank is being pulled away – gently- for the first time” since the region crashed into a debt crisis. The European single currency is not out of the woods yet, as David Cameron told an audience in the United States last night that he did wonder “how long it can last” and saw “more trouble ahead”.

As central bankers work on the eurozone, Europe’s politicians are getting to grips with Brexit. “They complain that Theresa May never tells them more about her strategy than she has said in public,” Fraser Nelson writes in today’s paper. “But what more is there to tell?” He summarises her strategy as follows: “No free movement of people, which probably means no more single market. And no to the European Court of Justice and its various diktats. She’ll then try to keep as much tariff-free trade with Europe as she can wrangle from the negotiations”. Mrs May will be pleased then that Germany seems to be coming around, as vice-chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said the EU should “do everything” to keep Britain “as close to Europe as possible”.

But Mrs May will still need to sell her Brexit deal to the public to avoid Ukip being able to spin it as “backsliding”. Her increasingly strained relationship with Boris Johnson won’t help in this, as his allies have condemned her “ridiculous attempt to belittle a member of the Cabinet” after her spokesman publicly slapped him down for his recent remarks about Saudi Arabia. Downing Street will have to be careful, as that they will need him – the most senior Leave campaigner in Government – to bang the drum for her Brexit negotiations later on.999999

Morning Briefing – The Telegraph

Good morning.

A British Prime Minister tries to cut immigration. Voters and their ministers demand it be accomplished. But the austere Chancellor opposes the plan on the grounds that it will bite into GDP and therefore tax receipts. Sound familiar? It should: it’s what George Osborne did, and also, if you believe the briefings of anonymous rivals, what Philip Hammond is doing now

“Spreadsheet Phil” – Jeremy Warner’s words, not mine – stands accused of trying to “undermine Brexit” by “arguing like an accountant”. Frustrated colleagues say he is in thrall to the whispering Wormtongues of Remain-inclined civil servants; specifically, he is reported to have raised doubts about a plan by Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, to replace EU free movement with a work permit system. Sources think him an obstructionist, always raising objections and never solutions. Treasury officials deny it (“rubbish”), but the Sun claims Mr Hammond has already come close to resigning twice since May.

The Chancellor’s dilemma is simple. He, like his colleagues, is committed to delivering Brexit. But he must also protect British businesses. Some of them – not all, but some – object to a work permit plan, especially because it would probably entail leaving the Single Market. As Adam Marshall of the British Chambers of Commerce puts it: “Businesses are pretty clear they will need workers from overseas with various skill levels in the years ahead.” Mr Hammond will also, perhaps, have glanced at the EY Item Club’s warning that higher inflation will depress household spending next year, with knock on effects on GDP growth and on unemployment (which it thinks will rise to “almost 6 per cent”). Of course they very easily could be wrong, but it will add to any sense of gloom he may be feeling.

But if he fears the wrath of Theresa May for taking her injunction to “get on” with Brexit as indicating a broader range of possible timescales than she perhaps intended, he has numbers on his side. Not economic statistics, but the kind of numbers which give you safety – for the Prime Minister is not short on annoyances. Over the weekend it was revealed that Boris Johnson initially wrote an article backing Remain, before in fact publishing a more widely-read article backing Leave. He says this was his way of thinking through the problem, and to be fair, I’ve made similar mistakes with break-up texts.

Oh, and ministers have also warned her that Mrs May will be “making a huge mistake” if she backs expansion of Heathrow Airport. So there’s that to look forward to.

 

Theresa May Gives Britain an Idea of What Kind of Leader She’ll Be

To the surprise of just about everybody, Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May cracked a joke today.

Addressing her Conservative Party’s annual four-day conference in the U.K.’s second city of Birmingham, May mocked her Foreign Secretary, the infamously loquacious Boris Johnson. “When we came to Birmingham this week, some big questions were hanging in the air. Do we have a plan for Brexit? We do. Are we ready for the effort it will take to see it through? We are. Can Boris Johnson stay on message for four days?”

Not even three months into her premiership, May is in her honeymoon period and the gushing audience burst into laughter. “Just about,” she then smiled, prompting effusive applause. Sir Malcolm Rifkind, a former Conservative Foreign Secretary, tells TIME that May “is funny in private”, but this is not her public style.

Certainly, there were few laughs in the rest of her speech. Instead, Britain’s new Prime Minister seized an opportunity to frame both her style and her political philosophy. She staked a claim for the political center ground, which represents fertile territory as her left-leaning opposition parties are waging civil war (Labour) or have virtually no Members of Parliament (the Liberal Democrats). If successful, a shift to the middle could keep the Conservatives in power for a generation. They are already nine points ahead of Labour according to the latest YouGov opinion poll.

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Morning Briefing – The Telegraph

Good morning.

We know from Theresa May what Brexit means (answer: Brexit), and what she intends to make of it (answer: a success), but when will she kick off the process by which Britain actually leaves? Boris Johnson suggested yesterday that the UK could invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which starts the two year countdown in which it would negotiate its terms of exit, “early next year”. Tory Eurosceptics may well have been delighted by this, especially as he outlined a strategy that would see Britain able to control its borders and enjoying a “jumbo free trade deal”. But Downing Street has already stepped in with some cold water.

No 10 made clear who will be triggering Article 50 at the end of the day: Prime Minister May. “She will be doing it at a time when she believes it is in the best interest for Britain,” a source told Peter Dominiczak in today’s paper.  “The Prime Minister’s position has not changed.” The Foreign Secretary is set to appear on the Andrew Marr show this Sunday, so he’ll can expect further questions about the Government’s Brexit strategy then.

The prospect of Theresa May delivering Brexit has already seen a number of Ukippers join the Conservatives, so could this trend continue? Paul Sykes, the millionaire Ukip donor, has signalled that he could defect back to the Tories in light of Britain’s vote to leave, as he writes in today’s paper that they are now best placed to redefine its relationship with Europe. “I want to return to the party to help them,” he says. But he wants Theresa May to ensure Britain leaves the single market and restores “full control of our borders and fishing rights” in order for him to move across. If she doesn’t, he warns, “the people of Britain will be able see our campaign posters from the moon.”