One of the great ironies that will be relished by historians in the semi-distant future is how Rory Stewart, the only candidate in the current Tory leadership who had a realistic plan for delivering Brexit, was derided as a Remainer, while they went on to pick Boris Johnson instead, who was the final nail in Brexit’s coffin.
Since June 2016, Brexiteers have made every major call in regard to leaving the European Union incorrectly. Given the political terrain following the immediate aftermath of Leave’s victory, where we are now is astounding: polls consistently in favour of remaining in the EU, three years on and still in the European Union, the Lib Dems revitalised as a political force entirely off the back of the European issue, the Tories in crisis. From where we stood in June 2016, we should have been out already, in the single market and customs union still but negotiating our way out, the issue settled from the perspective of the voting public, with the very few polls ever produced on the topic producing 80-20 pro-Leave sentiment. We did that, it’s done, would have been the national feeling; we never want to revisit it again.
Leavers like to blame the current state of affairs on Remainers: they just couldn’t accept the result and sabotaged the whole thing. This is the greatest lie in an age chock full of them. The Remainers in the summer of 2016 would venture no further than that we should remain in the single market; no one argued for straight up remaining in the EU at the time, no one. Remainers could not possibly have manoeuvred us to the place we are now on Brexit, whatever they did. That took the incompetence of the Brexiteers.
Choosing May when Gove was still available was a mistake of century defining proportions – and that isn’t a “hindsight is 20-20” deal, it was really, really obvious at the time. Having chosen May, then voting down her deal was also a catastrophic error. They rejected a chance to leave the EU that would have been difficult to ever reverse, killing Brexit’s momentum almost completely, all because of some small print over the Irish backstop. These same people who are terrified of some future legal wangling over the backstop are instead proposing we bail out without a deal and renege on paying £39 billion already agreed to the EU. The disconnect between these two positions – why don’t we just tell them we aren’t playing along with the backstop any longer and they can get stuffed if we’re already willing to not pay a £39 billion bill? – is madness made plain.
They are now about to make their final, possibly most egregious error in making Boris Johnson prime minister. At least it has a touch of poetry to it – BoJo being forced to be the man who kills Brexit, intentionally or unintentionally, after having got us all into this mess.
Think about it: what is Johnson’s Brexit plan? We go to Brussels and tell the continentals what for (they don’t like it up ’em, apparently) and then they capitulate. That’s it. That’s the whole plan.
There are only four ways I see a Boris Johnson premiership going in regard to Brexit, all of them bad for the long term project of Britain having left the European Union and “forged its own path”.
- He calls a general election and loses, taking it out of his hands.
- He revokes Article 50 shortly into his premiership.
- He gets another extension from the EU and dithers on Theresa May-style until he is deposed.
- We crash out with no deal, leading to rejoining the EU at some point in the next ten years, but probably way sooner than that.
When I think about all of the huge errors the Leavers have made over the past three years, Boris Johnson is the common factor. They rejected Gove because the feelings of BoJo were considered more important that, you know, getting someone into Number 10 who would not totally make a hash of Brexit; if Boris had swung in behind May on the deal, it very well may have got through parliament; now they are about to bet the whole project on him. We would never have voted to Leave without Boris Johnson; but we definitely would have left without his disruptive influence over Brexit. Quite the paradox.