Boris is the real Brexit deal, and the Tories’ biggest asset in this election
BY DARREN GRIMES
In the latest poll for the Mail on Sunday the Brexit Party were down five points: to 6 points, with the Conservatives on 41 and the Labour Party on 16. Given the general consensus of the Westminster commentariat that the squeeze of the Brexit Party was enough to lock Boris Johnson out of a majority, can the personality of Boris be enough to see him over the finishing line? I now believe so.
If Boris does not secure a majority, it’s difficult to see an arrangement in which he can secure a coalition or a confidence and supply agreement with any of the main parties. Any parties that seem even conceivable partners will likely be too small to give the Conservatives the numbers needed. So can Boris pull it off? Yes, here’s why.
In April of 2016 I was asked to introduce Boris Johnson to the North East of England, for the launch of the region’s Vote Leave campaign. I was terrified. Working part time in Marks and Spencer, running my own youth-focused Leave campaign and studying full time, all meant I had precious little time to prepare for the occasion. All I can really recall now are the beaming lights ahead of me, a room packed with hundreds of people, the media in attendance and little old me frozen in-front of a microphone.
I gave a few words on why I believed the region and my generation would flourish outside of the clutches of the sclerotic European Union and then introduced the Mayor of London. Out he came, to thunderous applause. I put it down to politeness – no one in the North East could genuinely applaud an old Etonian Tory, could they?
Boris boomed on the risks of staying in the EU, the risks of our membership fee (which showed no signs of pulling back from its upwards trajectory), the risks from the unnecessary and cumbersome rules and regulations, 50 per cent of which have emanated from Brussels since my birth in 1993.
Once he’d finished, the room went silent. I paused, scanning the room whilst clutching my Brexit-backing piece of corex board. Suddenly the room erupted. Every single human being inside of it rose to their feet and gave this masterclass in oratory with a blonde mop on top a standing ovation. I couldn’t believe it. A Tory, getting a standing ovation in the North East? Could things be on the change?
After all, it was Nigel Farage who brought the question of a referendum into the mainstream zeitgeist. My whole family were suddenly animated on the question of Europe by 2016. They had started to talk disapprovingly of their Labour Party affiliation thanks to the power of Farage’s oratory and arguments, a master salesman as well as politician.
We owe Mr Farage a great debt; he brought the question of Europe to the forefront of British politics, forcing Mr Cameron to countenance an in/out referendum on Europe, that would give us a genuine say over the powers that with each passing Treaty were beginning to flow away and dilute the parliamentary democracy we have fought for in this country.
You see, until Mr Farage forced the question onto the agenda, every politician had shown a bit of Eurosceptic leg. David Cameron, for instance, once warned of federalist attempts to tame the ‘British lion’ and turn her instead into a ‘federalist pussycat’ – but we all know how quickly he capitulated during his so-called renegotiation with the EU. Even Tony Blair promised his Brexit-backing North East constituents in 1983 that membership of the European Economic Community, later renamed the EU, had “drained our natural resources and destroyed jobs”. Most Prime Ministers have played at Euroscepticism to win the base, but abandoned them as soon as they were actually called upon to prove their stripes.
Not so for BoJo! Boris, in his memoirs published in 2001 wrote about how his agent for the Henley constituency argued that he ought to shut his gob on Europe, so that those in the constituency formerly represented by the arch-federalist Michael Heseltine would not be able to couch him as someone who might be unapologetically pro-Britain. Did Boris shut his gob? Did he hell.
This is where Mr Farage’s problems arise. Once upon a time his competition were as dull as dishwater, the same old identitkit politician that could never hope to be fervent and ideological on their euroscepticism when it came down to negotiations with the European Union.
Boris Johnson is the perfect antidote to Nigel Farage: the first mainstream leader to fully commit, despite the institutional refusal, to supporting Brexit. If MPs back him in the general election, they’re now guaranteed to reject Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement, a deal which risked a permanent EU Customs Union through the Northern Irish backstop, with regulatory alignment in goods and a Level Playing Field (code for staying locked in the EU’s orbit). In Boris’ deal the default will be an independent UK negotiating a Free Trade Agreement.
The new Boris Deal is now one that fully fulfils that promise of taking back control. Gone are the attempts to show a little bit of leg to eurosceptics – now the deal is one where the default is to negotiate a free trade agreement. It includes an arrangement for Northern Ireland that, if intelligently and robustly implemented, preserves Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom’s family of nations and maintains the status quo at the land border.
Nigel Farage is no longer the only genuine Eurosceptic article in town. Gone are the leaders that will merely feign Eurosceptism in the Brexit-backing regions like the North East in the hope that they will back their cause. Boris is the full Brexit monty, baring all. Nigel Farage can’t hope to keep his Eurosceptic base. Boris has delivered what the establishment said was impossible: a renegotiated Brexit deal that, whilst not perfect, finally sees us within touching distance of taking back control, as opposed to a coalition of chaos and a rejection of the biggest democratic mandate in British electoral history.
Darren Grimes is a commentator, campaigner and podcaster. Follow him on twitter: @darrengrimes_