In what must be the most redundant headline in the history of journalism, The Atlantic magazine this week ponders: “Is Boris Johnson A Liar?” You don’t need to be Woodward and Bernstein to know that question has been put to bed quite some time ago.
A better question these days would be: “Does Boris Johnson Ever Tell The Truth?”
The prime minister’s explanation for our current national calamity on The Andrew Marr Show last Sunday saw more pointed fingers than a heavy metal concert.
The lorry driver crisis is the fault of the road haulage industry. The historic waste of British pork crisis is the fault of the “pig slaughtering industry”. The petrol crisis is due to “demand issues” or, in other words, you. The policing crisis is the fault of Crown Prosecution Service and the Metropolitan Police.
The energy price crisis, empty shelves crisis, impending inflation crisis are all the fault of the pandemic and British business. Conspicuously, Brexit doesn’t get a look in.
Marr did not have time to tackle Johnson about the lack of a promised US-UK trade deal, ongoing collapse of the fortunes of the City of London, resurgence of sectarian hostilities in Northern Ireland, post-Brexit increase in costs of materials for two-thirds of small businesses, a boom in French and Irish port traffic as shipping avoids the UK, the 40% slump in European students applying to UK universities, all the unharvested and unsold soft fruit and flowers, the Cornish fisherman facing ruin after their shellfish fell outside of the UK-EU trade deal, the mass exodus of British fintech firms to EU territory, the reintroduction of punitive holiday phone roaming tariffs, pet food industry crippled by border red tape, the National Theatre cancelling its tour of Europe because of the cost of visas and paperwork, disadvantaged UK students missing out after the UK left Erasmus,
extra taxes applied to millions of online purchases, that there won’t
be any turkey this Christmas and all the endless rest of the unforeseen Brexit-related problems currently infecting our national corpus.
To be fair, Marr’s interview with the prime minister was necessarily short to accommodate a pre-taped fireside chat with Brexit-campaigning rock star Roger Daltrey, who once sang “I hope I die before I get old”. That’s not the only thing Daltrey has changed his mind about – this year he signed an open letter demanding the government conjure up some policy to allow free movement across European borders for musicians.
Still, you might have hoped Marr would push the prime minister a little further on why the UK is suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune so much more than anyone else, but questioning whether this whole Global Britain thing is an ill-considered misadventure has become passé amongst our journalistic elite. They’ve moved on, judging (perhaps correctly) the majority of their listeners no longer care to dissect the root causes of the malady.
All the same, accurate diagnosis matters.
The government presents Britain’s sorry state as a globally-shared consequence of Covid, beyond its control. “Boris Johnson is not responsible for what is in the shops,” says foreign secretary Liz Truss, jostling with Nadine “THERE IS NO PETROL SHORTAGE!!” Dorries for most bonkers quote of the week.
It’s true that Covid has had a profoundly disruptive effect on global supply lines. It’s also true that the numbers of homegrown HGV drivers have been hammered by an inability for them to take their tests during lockdown. And again, it’s true there are shortages of lorry drivers elsewhere.
But nowhere else have these realities created such chaos. It is an illustration of the greatest lie in the Johnson canon of lies: Brexit does not bestow market strength upon Britain, but market weakness.
Within the EU, labour moves freely depending on demand. Here in the UK, it moves bureaucratically, depending on the whim of a minister.
“Britain was drunk on cheap labour” an anonymous government source tells the Daily Telegraph. Well, we’re sobering up fast. The UK’s horse-bolted response to both the petrol crisis and turkey crisis – 5,500 temporary visas for both EU lorry drivers and EU poultry workers currently busy at work making the EU’s problems less acute than Britain’s – indicates we’ve replaced a free-flowing market with a non-flowing market. We have moved from a flawed but functional system to… nothing. We’re making it up as we go along.
Whether those emergency visas are taken up or not remains to be seen (as we went to press it emerged that only 127 drivers have so far applied) but in any case it seems clear Christmas 2021 will be remembered as the year Santa’s sleigh got stuck at the border.
Brexit was always a gamble. The people cheering for it usually looked more like bookies than bankers. But, as the slogan goes, when the fun stops, stop.
The scattergun blame policy deployed by the government, combined with a Labour leadership still too timid to speak truth to the powerless, leaves Britain standing ankle-deep in a pile of scrunched up betting slips, chasing our losses.
Brexit was always going to involve a painful transition, as even its most optimistic cheerleaders knew. Covid has both compounded that pain, and provided a partial misdiagnosis. But the government’s refusal to accommodate the urgent needs of British business is reckless and, ironically, the most un-Conservative Party behaviour imaginable; wilfully ignoring market realities in favour of a failing political dogma.
Boris Johnson campaigned for Brexit. Prime minister Boris Johnson got Brexit done. Boris Johnson’s government continues to bungle Brexit. Today, Boris Johnson leads the denial of Brexit’s damage. Despite all Boris Johnson’s frantic finger-pointing, the blame is clear.