By John Walker
It was so easy to believe Dominic Cummings’ description of Boris Johnson as an errant shopping trolley. The bumbling, incoherent ineptitude fits our picture of Johnson and his government. Yet we should never forget that he achieved his aims, Brexit and premiership, despite incompetence. Perhaps we should start to examine what lies behind the picture we have. Are there lies within lies? We should all be suspicious, extremely so when Cummings is the source.
Since the moment of leaving the EU, things have been going badly for the country. A trade deal with no tariffs or quotas sounded good to many people – at least to those who are not directly involved in import and export. Now we know that other barriers are still in place and are much more important. Customs and import duties, quality standards and agricultural products standards have all increased the difficulty of trading with the EU, and as we have not yet started inspecting goods coming into the country from the EU, we can expect the problems to double at some point soon.
Constitutional problems are beginning to heat up in Northern Ireland and Scotland. Our influence with the Biden White House is minimal, as displayed during the Afghan retreat and the PM’s recent visit to Washington. The difficulties continue to mount.
With so many problems, either directly in our face or on a near horizon, what is the government’s strategy? It will be obvious to all but the most ardent Brexiter that the situation will only get worse.
A strategy of hoping that the public have “bought into” the Brexit offer so strongly that they could never admit it was a mistake could easily fall apart with strong leadership from opposition forces.
This is where Lord Frost comes in. Here we have a former diplomat seemingly so inept at his diplomatic task as to constantly antagonise those he is sent to conciliate and mollify. Surely, we should be seeking common ground to resolve issues in a constructive and cooperative way? Surely, we should be trying to keep on good terms with our nearest neighbours, largest trade partners and major strategic allies? Yet we are confounded by his inconsistency, intransigence and thinly-veiled insults.
We have seen this as his failing – but what if that is his strategy? What if the plan is to antagonise the EU and their negotiators so much that they throw up their hands and walk away? It might please the editors of the Brexit press, but surely it cannot help us in the long-term?
Consider the paths that we might take in the next few years and decades. One route might involve declining trade, reduced tax income and greater demand for promised spending, including levelling up, a green agenda and care services. In a future general election, any alternative government that promised a return to prosperity by re-joining the single market and customs union could win power. Moreover, they could make inroads, via Brexit sceptics, to the Tory heartlands of the South-East.
The only way to remove that danger would be to exasperate the EU enough that they curtail or reduce all dialogue and cooperation before any election.
The alternative route would still have the same pressures on government, but no rapprochement would be possible with the EU by dint of sheer bloody-mindedness on our part. If we made ourselves so vexatious that no EU negotiator would talk to us, it would ensure the continuing of the Brexit project beyond the life of any single government.
Is this then the strategy of the Johnson government? To be so obnoxious as to be beyond reasonable behaviour? To force the EU to slam a door in our face should we request single market and customs union access? And if eventually we want readmittance to full membership, that we be treated as thoroughly unwelcome? This is not Johnson’s bumbling, incoherent ineptitude. It is sabotage. It is the destruction of our collective place in the world.
Lord Frost must be sacked. The government’s laser-guided plan must be exposed. Opposition parties must come up with a coherent plan to restore trade, strengthen our economy, recommit to the union and lead the world in preserving the ecology of the planet. We must show statesmanship and competence in requesting access to EU markets. None of this will come from a government led by Boris Johnson.