Friday 12 July 2019

Boris Johnson Meets Andrew Neil

Who tuned in tonight to watch Andrew Neil grill Jeremy Hunt? Not me. As he's not going to win, there's little point dwelling upon his interview. Tonight then was all about Boris Johnson. Did we learn anything new, or were all our preconceptions reconfirmed?

We know from decades of suffering this oaf how he elbows his way into the centre of attention, and through a series of studied ruses not only monopolises it but manipulates the situation. As Hunt observed in a rare moment of insight during the ITV debates earlier this week, Boris Johnson will make you smile and while you're laughing you've forgotten how he didn't answer the question. That might work with the less experienced interviewer, or a one shot questioner in a press conference, but in a half hour sit down with the country's fiercest politics inquisitor?

Andrew Neil started off softly, asking Johnson about his character and whether he could be trusted. Perhaps expecting something a bit tougher, Johnson rejoined that there were no trust issues. He has fantastic conservative policies, which he will deliver - this is the judge of character that matters most. It was here Johnson floated one of his favourite policy themes - policing. The Tories think they have Labour on the run thanks to the increase in violent crime in London, something they (and Donald Trump, of course) are keen to hang on Sadiq Khan. Neil gave Johnson space to discuss how crime fell during his tenure as Mayor, and thus the trap was sprung. While crime fell by a fifth in the capital between 2008 and 2016, Brillo observed that it fell by 26% in the rest of the country, so why was the Johnson administration less effective in getting the figures down? Not surprisingly, there wasn't an answer. The man who would be Prime Minister lost his balance and never recovered.

Returning to the theme of character, Brillo asked why he didn't stand up for the UK's Ambassador to the US, Kim Darroch, whose withering diplomatic cables on the Mickey Mouse White House were published this week, and whose leaks are now subject of a police investigation. Indeed, returning to the ITV Debate Neil drew attention to the fact he was asked four times to offer Darroch his support and failed to do so. Johnson tried his damnedest to weasel his way out by saying "I support the principle of civil servants saying what they need to", which of course, is a manner of evading the question. Neil then put it to Johnson that he was actually happy to see the ambassador out because he had previously berated Jeremy Hunt for backing Darroch. Asked if he accepted the argument Johnson's refusal to back him contributed to Darroch's resignation, he had the chutzpah to claim the "job of politicians to stick up for civil servants", and that it was not right to drag someone's career into the public domain. The evasion of responsibility continued when quizzed about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Readers will recall how, because he hadn't read his briefing notes prior to a stint in front of the foreign affairs committee, his claim she was teaching journalism rather than simply holidaying, which was actually the case, has cost her an extra five years in prison. Johnson did his typical "you're exculpating the Iranian regime, it's all them" and rejected any suggestion he had any kind of responsibility for her fate. Needless to say, Neil berated him for making a bad situation worse.

Moving on to Brexit, Brillo asked if there was a deal in the offing prior to the Hallowe'en deadline and needed a few days over to finalise it, surely he - Johnson - would not walk away. His reply, which was unconvincing, went "we definitely come out", but we'll definitely have a deal by then anyway. Asked about his opposition to May's deal, Neil asked if Johnson would back it if all that was done was a change to the Irish backstop. Cue the full majesty of Johnson's Brexit fantasy. He said he would argue for the future of the border getting remitted to the free trade agreement he wants to negotiate with the EU. But, as Neil observed, the backstop is a fallback, a precondition for negotiations, a determination of what the UK/Ireland/EU relationship would be in the event of trade negotiations failing, an insurance policy. Damningly, it appears Johnson hasn't got his head around this very basic fact of Brexit. Which is why, by way of a miserable response, he said Neil was offering "defeatism and negativity" and what the negotiations need is "new optimism". And you thought Theresa May was bad.

One of the big fears of a Johnson government is his closing parliament to get a no deal Brexit through, something Rory Stewart (remember him?) warned could lead ot a civil war situation(!). So Brillo asked Johnson why he won't rule out shutting the doors. "I don't want to do that" snapped back Johnson, and besides, we shouldn't fear no deal. Not only are the preparations in hand, we can leave the EU without a deal and carry on as normal. A deft sidestep away from a tricky issue, but into another sticky one. Trying to look as if he knew what he is talking about, Johnson cited paragraph 5B of Article 24 of the 1994 GATT agreement which allows for the present relationship to remain in place for a decade. This then is Johnson's magic bullet, and assumes the EU would consent because it's in both parties interests. Be that as it may, Neil blind-sided Johnson by citing paragraph 5C, which he didn't know about. Under GATT rules 5B is only possible if there is some form of declaration about a future agreement and a timetable for talks. One would also assume in this relationship the UK becomes a rule taker, and cannot enter into separate arrangements with countries already covered by EU treaties (for instance, the Canadian, Japanese, and recent South American deals), and also it might be challenged by a third party - all good fun for the lawyers no doubt. While Neil didn't raise these complications, to the discovery of paragraph 5C all Johnson could do was mumble incoherently about "BBC-generated gloom and negativity", as if the national broadcaster had a hand in defining the global rules of trade.

Moving to Johnson's spending commitments, Neil observed that Philip Hammond's £26bn "fiscal headroom" for no deal planning isn't money set aside for a rainy day, but cash that can be borrowed according to the government's spending rules. Johnson replied his government would "continue to bear down on national debt, and setting out our plans." This money would be invested in education and the police, and amounts to significantly less than the money the Treasury is prepared to set aside, Johnson smugly retorted. And another trap was sprung. Neil flagged up the £9bn worth of tax cuts he'd promised the wealthiest tax payers by raising the threshold of the top rate, and the £13bn for taking the lowest paid out of National Insurance. It was almost as if Johnson doesn't think tax cuts are spending commitments too.

In all, this was the most dismal performance I've seen from a politician in some years, and it says everything about the state of the Tory party that this poltroon is odds on to be the next Prime Minister. This seat-of-the-pants, half-arsed, drivel-pedalling incompetence should damn his chances. Instead, for the unhinged faithful at home they'll think Johnson did a good job against an interviewer who browbeat him and didn't give him a proper chance to explain himself. The Tory membership might be easily fooled, but thankfully the electorate are not so gullible.


Brian Johnson said...

In short Boris was De Feffeled..

Harry the dog said...

I know what my mother would say: "get a haircut, do up your tie and sing the national anthem.”

Gabriel Pepper said...

The interview with Brillo was a fortaste of how Bojo will b when faced with JC

Unknown said...

I wish your last sentence about the non-gullibility of the electorate in general held water. They fell for Johnson's lies in the original referendum. It seems to me that Johnson has two solid groups supporting him; older blue-rinse Tory women who feel he just needs mothering and the extreme right, who will see in him a pushover for their policies.