BoJo: Britain is part of Europe and the EU isn't actually that bad. Banter!
Boris et al. won the referendum. Yet their reactions suggest that they haven't actually thought about what happens in the case of a Vote Leave victory. Nigel Farage already had to acknowledge on Friday morning that the supposedly "£350m" a week the UK sends to Brussels will probably not be used for the NHS. Boris Johnson wrote in his Telegraph column on Monday that "British people will still be able to go and work in the EU; to live; to travel; to study; to buy homes and to settle down."
by the Know Nothing Enquirer 27/06/2016
Even though he does not mention it (he only speaks about EU citizens already living in the UK), this would entail that EU citizens would also have exactly the same rights, i.e. he will not touch the basic EU principle of free movement of labour. He also writes that Leave voters were not "mainly driven by anxieties about immigration", but rather "inspired by the belief that Britain is a great country". Indeed this was Boris' (or rather Farage's) "independence day" - the great moment of national liberation from Brussel's bureaucratic oppression British eurosceptics have been fighting for over 40 years.
The British eurosceptic public made it extremely easy for Boris et al. to win the referendum. Facts and figures never played an important role in the entire debate. Knowledge of the EU and its institutions is extremely low. Fleet Street (especially the tabloid papers) is extremely eurosceptic and willing to spread lies for the "greater good". 45% of published newspaper articles in the last months were in support of leaving the EU. Even business people outed themselves for "national liberalisation". Sir James Dyson recently said in an interview with The Telegraph:
“[T]he EU would be committing commercial suicide to impose a tariff because we import £100bn [of goods] and we only send £10bn there – I didn’t want to get too graphy, but here are a few graphs.”
This is the same entrepreneur who lobbied for Britain to join the Euro and who moved his entire manufacturing plant from the UK to Malaysia, arguing that production costs in Europe are too high and future markets are in Asia. Dyson is still convinced that the European market is too "small" to be of real significance in the future, despite the company currently being number one in Germany and number two in France (according to him). Dyson (and the entire Leave campaign) plays down the significance of the UK-EU trade. Britain actually imports £291bn worth of goods and services from the EU and exports £223bn to the EU. But who really cares about figures? And The Telegraph is happy to report on anyone making eurosceptic statements without even questioning the most outrageous claims. It didn't come as a surprise that the article concluded: "Honestly, if Dyson designed a country, you would want to live in it because it would be beautiful and fun, and, above all, it would work."
So now that Britain has "achieved independence" Johnson is surprisingly quiet about how to move forward. Suddenly Europe is the future again and David Cameron and George Osbourne have done terrific jobs in reforming the economy. "The stock market is way above its level of last autumn; the pound is higher than it was in 2013." Boris needs the support of the Tory Party to become prime minister and maybe he is hoping that Leave voters overlook this detail.
This might turn out be fatal. The economy has suffered pretty badly. The pound slumped below $1.32. S&P downgraded Britain's credit rating from AAA to AA, skipping AA-. Moody downgraded the UK's outlook to negative. Peter Hargreaves (who gave the Leave campaign £3.2m) lost £410m since Friday. FTSE 250 lost 13.7% in the last two trading days, the biggest 2-day fall since the 1987 hurricane. Morgan Stanley predicts that the pound and the stock markets will fall even further. Hargreaves already said that the government would be "crazy" if they wouldn't involve him. After all, he has "enormous experience of negotioation, enormous experience of economics, and [is] one of Britain's most successful businessmen". But hey, a recession is a price worth paying to free our nation from the "federal" tyranny of the EU. Our billionaires will save us! Oh and 76m Turks are about to claim welfare benefits in Britannia and ruin our NHS (Turkey's unlikely EU membership has played a central role in the Leave campaign).
The front page of The Sun on 22 June. According to Boris, immigration didn't drive Leave voters. (Photo: KNE)
Meanwhile, the eurosceptic press is turning surprisingly sober. The Express is warning its readers of economic and political turmoil of Brexit. The Sun writes that British citizens might lose the right to freely move in the European Union and even advises those with Irish ancestry to look into gaining an EU passport (or "marriage"). The Brussels Telegraph correspondents says that Britain is in a worse bargaining position than Greece. The Daily Mail is worried that the Le Bouquet Treaty, the arrangement under which British police conduct border controls in France, might not be renewed by France after Britain leaves the EU.
In a previous article the Know Nothing team warned that in case of a Brexit victory the Leave campaign will struggle to please its supporters. It chose to make immigration the central argument. Even though Johnson did not say it directly in his column, it seems like he is seeking a Norway style associated membership status. Britain would still have access to the European Economic Area and would adhere to the principal of free movement of labour. However, most of what he is writing is wishful fantasy and will never turn into reality. He only mentions the future rights of British citizens and EU citizens already living in the UK. Johnson also mentions that a "substantial sum" of the EU membership fees "will be used on priorities such as the NHS". Considering that Britain would actually still have to pay those fees in case of a Norway style deal, albeit slightly lower (unless, of course, Boris is willing to commit complete economic suicide and opt for an Albania style deal), this is complete nonsense. His claims "that the UK will extricate itself from the EU’s extraordinary and opaque system of legislation" are of course also complete fantasy. Norway currently has to apply 93 out the 100 costliest EU regulations. Who would have thought that being part of this exclusive club comes at a price?
The EU will never agree to Boris' asymmetrical deal. After all, once Britain triggers article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the 27 EU countries will decide on a deal that will be proposed to Britain. Plus, the UK has a pretty weak bargaining position and the EU is determined to "punish" Britain to prevent other countries from exiting the union in the future. Why should Britain be able to get the magic deal?
The underlying concept of the EU is to create a win-win situation for all involved. Countries make certain sacrifices but overall everybody is better off. Britain was able to negotiate extremely advantages treaty opt-outs and a rebate. Johnson seems to be under the impression that by leaving the EU Britain will be able to retain all the benefits without having to commit anything. Unfortunately, this strategy is destined to fail. The eurosceptical press cannot further ignore the chasm between reality and the Leave campaign's claims. "Project Fear" is very real. Even Mr. Dealmaker Hargreaves won't be able to negotiate a better deal. While Boris et al. might see themselves as the centre of the universe, Britain is not the biggest priority for the US or China. Leave voters will realise this sooner or later and will become even further disgruntled with the political establishment. After all, the economically disadvantaged (who mostly voted for Brexit) are the first to be hit by a recession. On Thursday they might have agreed with Micheal Gove that “People in this country have had enough of experts”. This might change very soon.