The old adage goes that nothing is certain in this life apart from death and taxes. But to this can now be added a third inevitability – that whatever happens in British political life, you can be certain that Boris Johnson will be engaged in a piece of shameless, bare-faced self-promotion.
Johnson, the disgraced former Telegraph columnist, is so ravenously fixated on engineering his return to power that it’s almost indecent. As George Osborne conceded in a recent interview, he and David Cameron made a mistake when dealing with Johnson. They thought that he actually believed things. But he didn’t and he doesn’t.
Osborne sees it now, perhaps a little late. Johnson doesn’t care about anything so dreary as policies. He doesn’t care about ideas, or the idea of service – the thought itself is laughable. Johnson is exclusively interested in power. His own.
And so here Johnson is, announcing in an interview that he will not back the present prime minister’s attempt to clear up the mess that he – Johnson – made when he signed a deal with the EU that he quite clearly didn’t understand. Perhaps he didn’t bother to read it.
Johnson’s point is that the Northern Ireland Bill must stay. It’s a piece of legislation that allows the UK to dodge certain parts of the deal Johnson signed with the EU. Rishi Sunak needs to get rid of it if he is to reach any sort of deal with the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol issue.
So long as the Protocol quandary remains unsolved, Northern Ireland will have no government in the Stormont assembly and the power-sharing agreement will continue to fray at the edges. It should also be noted that Sinn Fein is currently leading in the polls in the Republic of Ireland. The total political collapse of Northern Irish governance could put Sinn Fein in government on both sides of the border and if that happens, the prospect of Irish unification will have taken a step closer.
If we are to believe Osborne, then Johnson doesn’t care about any of this, and judging from the idiotically simplistic remarks Johnson gave in his interview to Sky News, it looks like George has it about right. In his interview, Johnson said that the Northern Ireland bill “fixes all the problems. It solves the problems that we have in the Irish Sea, it solves the problems of paperwork, VAT and so on.”
“It’s an excellent Bill,” he said, “and doesn’t set up any other problems in the economy of the whole island of Ireland, so I’d go with that one.”
No serious political figure or diplomat would ever talk like this. The blithe self-assurance is cover for the fact that pretty much all of what Johnson said is demonstrably untrue. The effect of the Northern Ireland Bill would be to undermine the basis of Britain’s deal with the EU. It would say, effectively, that Britain has signed an agreement that it now plans to ignore where necessary. But international agreements do not work like that.
Johnson, however, does work like that. He makes promises he does not keep, forges agreements that he does not honour and is happy to push both truth and fact far beyond the point at which they both crack. And he does it all while not caring what the consequences are for his family, for his work colleagues, for his party, for the government, or for the reputation of the country.
Appropriately, perhaps, Johnson is only interested in No.1 – and his return to No.10.