Boris Johnson used a keynote speech on Brexit, in which he tried to expose the “systematic campaign of subterfuge” with which European Union (EU) interference is hidden from the public and make the “liberal cosmopolitan” case for Leave, to launch a thinly-veiled attack on senior colleagues.
Using the occasion of Europe Day — the officially EU-designated day to honour the former French Foreign Minister and leading architect of the European Project, Robert Schuman — Boris Johnson delivered what was trailed beforehand as his “biggest intervention” in the referendum campaign to date.
Making what he described as the “liberal cosmopolitan” case for Brexit, the former London Mayor explained that the “anti-democratic absurdities of the EU” meant he had evolved into someone “deeply sceptical” about the EU. As such he said he was first “excited in 2013 by the Prime Minister’s Bloomberg speech” but afterwards “quietly despaired as no reform was forthcoming.”
Quoting at length from David Cameron’s 2013 speech, which Mr. Johnson said “savaged the EU’s lack of competitiveness, its remoteness from the voters, its relentless movement in the wrong direction”, he pointed out that the Prime Minister’s much-vaunted renegotiation of the UK’s terms of EU membership amounted to nothing, and to claim otherwise is “an offence against the Trade Descriptions Act”. He explained:
It is above all bizarre for the Remain campaign to say that after the UK agreement of February we are now living in a ‘reformed’ EU, when there has been not a single change to EU competences, not a single change to the Treaty, nothing on agriculture, nothing on the role of the court, nothing of any substance on borders – nothing remotely resembling the agenda for change that was promised in the 2013 Bloomberg speech.
Mr. Johnson pointed out that having been told “there had to be ‘fundamental reform’ and ‘full-on’ Treaty change that would happen ‘before the referendum’ – or else the government was willing to campaign to Leave,” the Government should “logically” be campaigning to leave.
The Prime Minister’s failure to achieve any meaningful reform at all was not Mr. Johnson’s only target. He also took on arguments for Remaining in the EU used by two potential rivals for the Tory Party leadership.
Taking on Home Secretary Theresa May and her immigration brief, he attacked her inability to meet targets she set herself, saying:
It is deeply corrosive of popular trust in democracy that every year UK politicians tell the public that they can cut immigration to the tens of thousands – and then find that they miss their targets by hundreds of thousands, so that we add a population the size of Newcastle every year, with all the extra and unfunded pressure that puts on the NHS and other public services.
Although himself being “in favour of immigration”, Mr. Johnson stressed he is “also in favour of control, and of politicians taking responsibility for what is happening”. He warned that it “bewilders people to be told that this most basic power of a state – to decide who has the right to live and work in your country – has been taken away and now resides in Brussels.”
Turning to Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne’s financial arguments for staying in the politico-trading bloc, Mr. Johnson attempted to show that arguments in favour of the Single Market “are looking increasingly fraudulent,” saying:
It has not boosted the rate of British exports to the EU; it has not even boosted growth in exports between the EU 12; and it has not stopped a generation of young people – in a huge belt of Mediterranean countries – from being thrown on to the scrapheap.
He took on the arguments of the banking industry and big business, saying that we “heard them 15 years ago, when many of the very same Remainers prophesied disaster for the City of London if we failed to join the euro.” Rather than banks fleeing to Frankfurt, as people had warned, he pointed out that “Canary Wharf alone is now far bigger than the Frankfurt financial centre – and has kept growing relentlessly since the crash of 2008.”
Mr. Johnson also rebutted the arguments of those who say the future of international trade depends on multi-national agreements between regional trade blocs, dismissing those who claim membership of the EU helps negotiate such deals:
As for the argument that we need the muscle of EU membership, if we are to do trade deals – well, look, as I say, at the results after 42 years of membership. The EU has done trade deals with the Palestinian authority and San Marino. Bravo. But it has failed to conclude agreements with India, China or even America.
Why? Because negotiating on behalf of the EU is like trying to ride a vast pantomime horse, with 28 people blindly pulling in different directions. For decades deals with America have been blocked by the French film industry, and the current TTIP negotiations are stalled at least partly because Greek feta cheese manufacturers object to the concept of American feta. They may be right, aesthetically, but it should not be delaying us in this country.
Not wanting to leave any argument unchallenged, Mr. Johnson also took on the ‘Peace in Europe’ argument rolled out by the Prime Minister earlier in the day. Rather than promoting peace on the continent, he warned it poses a very real threat to it which is “intensifying and not diminishing”, explaining:
And of course there will be some in this country who are rightly troubled by a sense of neighbourly duty. There are Remainers who may agree with much of the above; that the economic advantages for Britain are either overstated or non-existent. But they feel uneasy about pulling out of the EU in its hour of need, when our neighbours are in distress; and at this point they deploy the so-called ‘Peace in Europe’ argument: that if Britain leaves the EU, there will be a return to slaughter on Flanders Fields.
I think this grossly underestimates the way Europe has changed, and the Nato guarantee that has really underpinned peace in Europe. I saw the disaster when the EU was charged with sorting out former Yugoslavia, and I saw how Nato sorted it out.
And it understates the sense in which it is the EU itself, and its anti-democratic tendencies that are now a force for instability and alienation.
As he neared the end of his speech, where he set out how Brexit would allow the UK to “recapture or secure” its voice and influence throughout the world and “take back control” of its democracy, he set out five questions to which Remain campaigners have no answers “because they are asking us to remain in an EU that is wholly unreformed, and going in the wrong direction.” Those questions are:
- How can you possibly control EU immigration into this country?
- The Living Wage is an excellent policy, but how will you stop it being a big pull factor for uncontrolled EU migration, given that it is far higher than minimum wages in other EU countries?
- How will you prevent the European Court from interfering further in immigration, asylum, human rights, and all kinds of matters which have nothing to do with the so-called Single Market?
- Why did you give up the UK veto on further moves towards a fiscal and political union?
- How can you stop us from being dragged in, and from being made to pay?
Although the speech was predominantly serious in tone, focusing on how the “loss of democratic control is spiritually damaging, and socially risky”, there was still an opportunity for a typically humourous ‘Boris moment’.
He told those gathered that the “offensive, insulting, irrelevant and positively cretinous” argument that all Brexit supporters are “small-minded xenophobes” is wrong, saying:
I am a child of Europe. I am a liberal cosmopolitan and my family is a genetic UN peacekeeping force.
I can read novels in French and I can sing the Ode to joy in German, and if they keep accusing me of being a Little Englander, I will.
And then he promptly did.
here is Boris Johnson singing Ode to Joy in German https://t.co/oZFoxuRrfp
— Elena Cresci (@elenacresci) May 9, 2016