Boris Johnson’s Real Brexit BetrayalWas to Abandon the Single Market
The Conservatives promised to keep the UK wedded to its biggest international market after Brexit, but have instead left us in ruinous isolation, reports Adam Bienkov
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Almost all of Britain’s most-pressing political crises can be traced back to a single act by former Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron.
Cameron’s decision to hold a referendum on Brexit back in 2016 triggered a series of rolling political crises that continue to this day.
The current political paralysis in Northern Ireland, as well as the growing cost of living crisis across the UK, are just two examples of problems that were either directly caused, or significantly worsened, by Brexit.
Yet as the Bank of England governor warns of “apocalyptic” food price rises, the Government has attempted to claim that our current problems are all somehow inevitable results of long-term global political trends.
However, while Brexit did not directly cause all of our current problems, it has certainly made most of them measurably worse.
A report by the UK in a Changing Europe think tank last month found that Britain’s exit from the EU has directly led to a 6% increase in food prices.
This problem will only grow. If Johnson follows through on his threat to rip up the Northern Ireland protocol, then the inevitable new trade barriers imposed by the EU will make the current increase in our food bills look like small change.
Yet whenever such arguments are raised, supporters of Brexit inevitably fall back on accusing their critics of being undemocratic.
But while it is true to say that a narrow majority did support leaving the EU back in 2016, that vote did not state what form our exit should take, nor the terms on which our relationship with Europe should remain.
And while Johnson now appears determined to keep the UK permanently in conflict with the rest of Europe, it is vital to remember that this is very much not what either he or his predecessors, told us to expect.
A Timeline of Broken Promises
‘We say yes to the Single Market’
“We are clear about what we want from Europe”, the Conservative Party stated in its 2015 manifesto.
“We say: yes to the Single Market”.
The history of the Conservative Party’s abandonment of the idea of the European Single Market tells us a lot about the current mess we are in.
Championed by former Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the Single Market was for decades a matter of straightforward political orthodoxy for Conservative politicians.
Asked in 2013 about the possibility of Britain leaving the European Union, Johnson told Sky News that whatever happened, he would support Britain’s continued membership of the market.
“I would vote to stay in the single market”, Johnson said.
“I’m in favour of the single market. I want us to be able to trade freely with our European friends and partners.”
Asked again later that year about the possibility of Brexit, he replied that: “personally, I would like to stay in the Single Market”.
“We need to stay in the council of ministers of the internal market. In my view, the British have done good things for Europe.”
Staying in the Single Market is ‘essential and deliverable’
Even as the possibility of an EU referendum grew, Johnson remained committed to Britain’s Single Market membership.
At one point he called for the Brexit referendum to be held on the question of whether to remain in a “boiled down” version of the EU, inside the Single Market.
“We could construct a relationship with the EU that more closely resembled that of Norway or Switzerland” he explained, referring to those countries’ semi-detached relationship with the rest of Europe.
He added that such an arrangement would be “essential and deliverable”.
‘If we did not have [the EU] we would have to invent it’
There have long been doubts about the honesty of Johnson’s supposed anti-European politics
Indeed, long term friends and former colleagues of the Prime Minister suggest that far from being a committed Europhobe, he was actually always broadly in favour of the EU.
The truth of this can be found right back at the start of his political career.
“I am not by any means an ultra-Eurosceptic”, he told the House of Commons in 2003.
“In some ways, I am a bit of a fan of the European Union.
He added that: “If we did not have one, we would invent something like it”.
Not only did Johnson back the continued existence of the EU, but he actively supported enlarging it.
While his Brexit campaign would later stoke fears about Turkey joining the EU, he told MPs in 2003 that the UK would be “foolish” to prevent the country’s entry to the bloc.
The most ‘pro-immigration’ politician in Britain
Johnson’s Government now poses as fiercely anti-immigration and is imposing what even ministers believe could be illegal plans to deport refugees to Rwanda.
These draconian new restrictions on our borders are sold to the public as a “benefit” of Brexit and Britain’s exit from the Single Market.
However, it’s worth remembering that Johnson’s rise to power came off the back of his claim to be an actively pro-immigration politician.
Indeed when he was Mayor of London, Johnson claimed to be the most pro-immigration politician in the country.
“I’m probably about the only politician I know of who is actually willing to stand up and say that he’s pro-immigration”, Johnson said in 2013.
And far from arguing for an immigration clampdown, he would regularly boast of the benefits of EU immigration to the capital.
And despite his recent stance on Rwanda, as Mayor he repeatedly called for an amnesty for illegal immigrants.
“Ultimately you have got to reflect reality”, he told LBC back in 2013.
“Otherwise they are not engaged in the economy, they are not being honest with the system, they are not paying their taxes properly and it is completely crazy.”
Remaining in the EU would be a ‘boon for the world’
Johnson now portrays anyone who campaigned for Britain to Remain in the EU as being part of an out of touch metropolitan elite.
However, what is sometimes forgotten is that the Prime Minister came incredibly close to being among them himself.
In fact, when Johnson sat down to write his endorsement for the Brexit campaign, we now know that he also secretly wrote another article arguing the complete opposite.
In the drafted article he suggested that remaining in the European Union would be a “boon for the world and for Europe”.
“This is a market on our doorstep, ready for further exploitation by British firms”, he wrote.
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“The membership fee seems rather small for all that access. Why are we so determined to turn our back on it?”
Johnson later claimed the article was merely a “thought experiment”.
However, some of his own friends and allies believe this is untrue.
One close colleague of the Prime Minister says that in reality he never really wanted to leave the EU and certainly never believed it would actually happen.
They say that Johnson’s last-minute decision to back Brexit was in reality “all about the leadership” and merely a cynical gamble designed to secure his place in Downing Street.
Johnson’s Real Brexit Betrayal
In some respects, Johnson’s gamble paid off. His role in leading the Brexit campaign convinced Conservative MPs to make him their leader and he went on to win the last general election on the promise to “Get Brexit Done”.
Yet some six years after the referendum, Brexit remains very much not done.
The political crisis triggered by Cameron’s referendum has so far led to the deposal of two prime ministers, the calling of two general elections and a growing constitutional paralysis which could ultimately result in the break up of the United Kingdom.
And while some of these shorter-term crises may ultimately resolve themselves, Britain’s longer-term outlook is as a nation made permanently poorer by the decision to cut our ties to the EU.
A forecast by the International Monetary Fund last month suggested that the UK will next year have the lowest growth of any major developed economy, with only sanctioned Russia experiencing lower growth.
By leaving the European Single Market and then threatening a trade war with the EU, Johnson is driving the UK to the most economically and politically ruinous form of Brexit.
Not only is this a disaster in its own terms, but it is also a direct betrayal of the Brexit we were told to expect.
When Johnson campaigned for Brexit, we were told that it would lead to lower prices, liberalised free trade, and a new ‘global Britain’ set free of its chains to the EU.
In reality, we now have surging prices, a looming trade war and a nation permanently paralysed by never-ending negotiations with our European neighbours.
None of this was inevitable, but was in fact the result of a deliberate political choice to choose one particular version of Brexit over many others.
After six years of political paralysis, it is time that we thought again about that choice.