Why Boris at the Foreign Office?

Why Boris at the Foreign Office?

July 18th, 2016 // 3:16 pm @

The Prime Minister, Theresa May’s new cabinet looked like a bold but sensible move forward and away from the government of David Cameron, towards a competent cabinet loyal to her.

Then she put Boris Johnson in as Foreign Secretary, and even he seemed surprised, and the world giggled assuming it was a joke, but it was not. There is an old saying “No one does anything stupid” at least they do not see what they are doing as stupid, so Theresa had what was at least in her mind a good reason to do this.

Boris Johnson has many fine qualities; he comes across as different from most politicians, which in today’s environment is a great advantage. He comes across as real, saying what he thinks whenever it pops into his mind, and most importantly he can win elections, as seen when he won and kept the Mayors job in London, which is not natural conservative territory.

Unfortunately he has some major flaws. His irresistible desire to say what he thinks at any given moment has lead him regularly to say things that with any reflection he would not have said. In this he shows the same lack of thought seen in Donald Trump, thankfully without the attacks on particular social groups, as defined by gender, religion or color. However Boris regularly lets his mouth get ahead of his brain. It is hard to envisage a government role where this would be more of a problem that as Foreign Secretary.

Already this weakness is showing, following the horrific loss of life in Nice, the Prime Minister sounded like a leader and quietly paid her respects to France, and those who had died, and went on to pledge the UK to stand with France against terrorism. When interviewed Boris while clearly shaken by events was unable to formulate and communicate any clear message, and his comments bounced around without ever making a clear point.

Mr. Johnson is also personally sensitive, he takes criticism personally and in world diplomacy he is likely to get his fair share of personal criticism, particularly as he tries to work through difficult negotiations.

Diplomacy is about being subtle and thinking through what you say and its implications before you say anything. Boris is the exact opposite of that, he says what he feels when he feels it, and lacks the intellectual discipline to keep quite until he has thought through the implications of his thoughts.

So you have a man who is truly brilliant in certain areas of politics, but with obvious and serious flaws, and as Prime Minister you put him in the role where his weaknesses are likely to be brought to the fore, why?

The reality of the coming negotiations with the EU will essentially come down to a very simple equation. The UK will want maximum access to the common market, it will accept EU standards, as many of these are now world standards, it will accept paying into the EU budget as other countries outside the EU do for common market access.

The problem will be free movement of workers within the EU; this is for the EU and particularly Germany a significant issue, linked to the desire for an ever closer union. However for a British Prime Minister, post the exit vote to accept a complete freedom of movement within the EU, effectively allows the EU to dictate wider immigration policy, as anyone the EU let into the EU, the UK would be obliged to allow into the UK, this would be politically very difficult.

The timing of these negotiations is also critical, once the UK officially implements article 50 to leave the EU, probably in early 2017 we have a two year window to negotiate our exit, bringing us straight to the 2020 UK General Election.

The reality is the vision sold by the “Leave” campaign of a UK in the Common Market, but not paying to the EU, and with full UK control of all immigration simply will not be achieved.

The deal that will emerge will allow the UK a good deal of access to the common market, as that is in everyone’s best interests. We will however have to pay into the EU for the privilege, and the three hundred and fifty million a week the “Leave” party claimed would be saved will prove mythical. And we will be forced to accept at least some form of free movement of workers as Norway does despite it not being in the EU.

By the time this deal comes clear to the UK electorate, the financial damage done by the exit vote will be painfully clear.

So someone is going to have to sell the deal done with the EU, which is likely to look like a very poor deal when compared to what we have now, and do this selling in the midst of a recession caused by the EU exit.

Enter Boris Johnson, who as a leading “Leave” campaigner and now as Foreign Secretary, it is for him to sell whatever EU deal is done however bad the deal looks to the electorate.

Theresa May has set Boris to be front and center when the economic damage of exit becomes clear and for what is going to be a disappointing deal with the EU on the UK exit.

I think we have to add one more item to Boris Johnson’s weaknesses; he is naïve about real politics. Michael Gove betrayed him, and Boris did not see it coming. Theresa May has given him the prestige of being Foreign Secretary, which will play to his considerable ego, but she is setting him up to take the fall.

Two years from now Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary and lead “Leave” campaigner will be defending a recession caused by leaving the EU while trying to sell what will look like, and will be a poor deal from the EU.

Theresa May has got him onside for her policies over the coming years until the 2020 election, silenced his criticisms, and set him up to be the fall guy for the outcome of the EU renegotiation. She has calculated probably correctly that his ego, and the trappings of power that come with being Foreign Secretary will keep him on board until he has taken the heat for the EU negotiations, and then he can be safely jettisoned.

My admiration for our new Prime Minister is rising, and I am glad she is on our side; I suspect she is going to prove to be a formidable adversary.



Category : Blog &Other Thoughts &The Future

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