Thursday 19 September 2019

Colette Browne: 'Lies, damned lies and Brexiteers' shameless dishonesty on the way to their no-deal crash-out'

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Rui Vieira/PA)
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Rui Vieira/PA)
Colette Browne

Colette Browne

Lies are the essential currency of Brexit. They have engendered its birth, fed its growth and are now being deployed to deliver it.

But not all lies are created equal. First, there are the white lies we tell each other for altruistic reasons, to avoid hurt feelings and awkward social encounters.

Brexit's white lies can largely be found peppering the formal diplomatic communications between the UK and EU. So, for example, when European Commission spokesperson Natasha Bertaud yesterday said "we welcome the UK government's engagement and continued commitment to an orderly withdrawal," that was a white lie.

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Everyone in the Commission is entirely fed up of the UK government and doesn't believe for a moment that Boris Johnson and his cabinet have any real desire to meaningfully engage with the process.

Saying that aloud, however, would do more harm than good, so bland pleasantries are instead delivered through rictus smiles at press conferences.

Next come the black lies which have formed the bedrock of Brexit. The lies that have been utilised with the express purpose of creating the miasma of irritation, resentment, anger and confusion which has come to characterise Brexit.

Lies like the assertion of Tory MEP Daniel Hannan, in 2016, that "absolutely nobody is talking about threatening our place in the single market" or Vote Leave's claim that "Turkey - population 76 million - is joining the EU".

Mr Johnson's boast that £350m would be diverted, every week, from EU contributions to the NHS was also a black lie, as was nearly every single one of Brexiteers' allegations about levels of immigration and its harmful affect on society.

Finally, we have blue lies, a term devised by psychologists to describe untruths that are told not to benefit an individual but a group or a collective, with the result that stronger bonds can be fostered within that group.

Explaining the phenomenon in an article for 'Scientific American', Jeremy Adam Smith said blue lies can be "simultaneously selfish and beneficial to others, but only to those who belong to your group… black lies drive people apart, white lies draw them together and blue lies pull some people together while driving others away".

Blue lies can be used as propaganda tools by governments when they are going to war or by political parties trying to gain some advantage over opponents in an election.

Brexiteer claims of British exceptionalism - the "Blitz spirit" which will see the nation courageously battling, and defeating, any difficulty that is put in its path - fall into this category of lie.

As do the contents of Boris Johnson's letter to European Council President Donald Tusk, in which he merrily misrepresented the backstop to such an extent that he cast it as an inherent danger to the Good Friday Agreement - when the reality is that it was specifically designed to protect it.

Parroting the mantra of the party propping up his government, the DUP, Mr Johnson said "it has become increasingly clear that the backstop risks weakening the delicate balance embodied in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement".

Now, Mr Johnson knows this is false, and is also cognisant that everybody in Europe knows it is a lie, but he stated it anyway as it allows him to swat away accusations that his government's reckless actions are imperilling the peace process and risking a return to violence on this island.

Not only does this allow him to shore up support among the 10 DUP MPs who are holding his threadbare government together, it also serves another essential function - countering threats from American Congress members to his Brexit no-deal plans.

American politicians as powerful as Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi have warned they will torpedo any trade deal between the UK and the US if it threatens the "precious" Good Friday Agreement.

"The notion that America would now endorse a policy or agreement that undermines the success of the Good Friday Agreement is profoundly counter-productive and risks exacerbating sectarian polarisation and eroding self-determination - and unleashing the potential for violence that comes with that reality. This cannot be allowed to happen," said an unequivocal Mr Schumer this week.

Mr Johnson has consistently stated his willingness to exit the EU with no deal, "do or die", but he has always insisted this will not be done at the cost of the bilateral trade deals he has promised voters that Britain can forge after it leaves.

In order to save a US trade deal from the wrath of Democratic politicians, angry at the UK's cavalier attitude to Ireland, he must now focus on making the backstop something that it most definitely is not - a threat to peace, rather than its saviour.

Mr Johnson is doing this knowing it will further alienate the nationalist community in Northern Ireland, along with the Irish Government and other EU member states, but he doesn't care.

The purpose of the lie is to give succour to fellow Brexiteers, some of whom may be feeling a twinge of doubt as yet another bomb detonates in Northern Ireland this week, and to win support among politicians in the United States who can make or break a trade deal.

The fact that Mr Johnson clearly cares so little about building relationships within the EU, given the facile and arrogant tone of his letter, also means the risk of a no-deal crash out continues to escalate.

Patronising the European Commission with a four-page letter in which the backstop was described as "anti-democratic" and "unviable", while failing to propose a single concrete measure that could replace it, does not augur well for negotiations with less than three months to go before the Brexit deadline.

Our own Government, it should also be said, is not immune to Brexit blue lies either. The continued insistence that the UK could, despite all the evidence to the contrary, eventually sign up to the Withdrawal Agreement, is utterly fanciful at this stage.

'The Withdrawal Agreement is dead, long live the Withdrawal Agreement' is a mantra that no longer has a shred of credibility - even if the Government here feels it must continue to publicly utter it in order to maintain a united front with its European colleagues.

Anyone in Leinster House hopeful Mr Johnson is going to expand on his "flexible and creative" solutions to replace the backstop any time soon should stop dreaming - and instead opt to turbo- charge our own no-deal planning.

While Theresa May infamously promised to deliver a "red, white and blue Brexit", it is now clear that the only things Mr Johnson is interested in are black, white and blue Brexit lies - and how best to weaponise them for his advantage.

Irish Independent

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