Friday 19 July 2019

Colette Browne: 'The Tory party is now a cult full of Brexit zealots - so what better leader for it than hustler Boris'

Conservative party leadership contender Boris Johnson arrives at BBC Broadcasting House in London for a Live TV debate. Photo: PA
Conservative party leadership contender Boris Johnson arrives at BBC Broadcasting House in London for a Live TV debate. Photo: PA
Colette Browne

Colette Browne

The premiership of Boris Johnson represents a serious threat to this country - a threat that was outlined in an IMF report this week. According to it, Ireland is "uniquely vulnerable to a no-deal Brexit" and a fiscal stimulus may be required "depending on the severity of the downturn in the broader economy".

Even in the equivocation-rich field of economics, there is certainty that a no-deal Brexit would spell disaster for this country. The only question remaining is how extensive the carnage will be.

The warning from the IMF has previously been issued by our own Central Bank, which has forecast a large contraction in economic growth if the UK were to crash out of the EU.

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However, it has cautioned that its figures may be an underestimate as Brexit is such an "unprecedented" event that the economic shockwaves it will cause are difficult to accurately quantify.

Despite all of this, a certain ambivalence regarding the worst-case Brexit scenario has crept into political discourse here. There have been so many missed deadlines and empty threats from the British that the danger has begun to be downplayed. This is a mistake.

When Theresa May was in office, her modus operandi was to travel to Brussels and threaten to remove a pin from the grenade of Brexit if her demands were not met. Given this would have resulted in mutually assured destruction for everyone, her threats were not given much credence.

Into this delicate diplomatic negotiation now enters the blunderbuss that is Boris. If he gets to Number 10, the first item on his agenda will be to arm that grenade, by removing the pin, and then beginning to juggle it until a deal acceptable to the hard right of his party can be reached.

He may drop it, intentionally or unintentionally, but that unpredictability is precisely the problem. Reason and rationality are not words associated with Mr Johnson.

Uncouth, unreliable, unrefined and uncontrolled, Mr Johnson has survived scandals and missteps that would have killed the careers of other politicians. They should have killed his.

Now, he is about to be rewarded for years of conniving, ineptitude, dissembling and duplicitousness with the keys to the proverbial castle.

Mr Johnson could become prime minister today, only at this moment, when the Conservative Party has lost its collective mind. The only thing its members care about now is Brexit, the image of which is a mirage that briefly floats into view during their fever dreams, before the complications of pesky reality intervene.

An opinion poll released yesterday revealed just how delirious its zealot members have become. Officially called the Conservative and Unionist Party, that latter description should now be excised from its name.

Given the choice between Brexit and maintaining the union, 63pc would prefer if Scotland left the UK while 59pc would be happy to see the back of Northern Ireland.

A large majority don't even care if Brexit causes significant damage to the British economy. Some 61pc would still be happy for Brexit to proceed on that basis.

In fact, 54pc would be willing to see their own party destroyed if, from its ashes, Brexit were to rise. They have prepared the Kool-Aid and are willing to drink it.

The Tory party is no longer a party in the traditional sense. It is a cult that is devoted to the worship of a single ideal, Brexit, and it is willing to sacrifice anything to get it.

So, the election of Boris Johnson as the leader of the party should not surprise. Who better to lead a cult than a hustler?

It would be nice if we could watch all of this from afar, with the kind of stupefied disgust that one usually reserves only for horror movies, but the fates of our two countries are intertwined.

Regrettably for us, Mr Johnson is a man who thrives on chaos. He enjoys it. Reminiscing on his time as a journalist based in Brussels, where he made a name for himself misrepresenting the EU and sowing the seeds of Brexit, he told the BBC he got a thrill out of the experience.

"Everything I wrote from Brussels, I found I was sort of chucking these rocks over the garden wall and I listened to this amazing crash from the greenhouse next door over in England. It really gave me this, I suppose, rather weird sense of power," he said in 2005.

Imagine the sense of awesome power he feels now as he prepares to start hurling those rocks as prime minister?

Mr Johnson may excel at spinning yarns and holding court, but those attributes will not get him very far in the professional setting of a Brussels boardroom when his proposition for Brexit - an open Border in Ireland, but the UK leaving both the customs union and the single market - is based on an impossibility.

If it were possible, then Theresa May would have come away victorious when she tried to get the very same deal that Mr Johnson is now hawking.

While Mr Johnson regales maniacal Tory party members with his tales of technological solutions for the problem of the Irish Border, as if the past three years of negotiations never happened, serious politicians are attempting to quell the fears of those living in Border communities.

Speaking to RTÉ yesterday, Bill Clinton said the potential damage posed by Brexit to the North was given virtually no consideration during the referendum and that now, in its wake, "the rest of us have to do what we can to save the peace and economy of Northern Ireland for the young people of Northern Ireland".

If he expects any help in that regard from Mr Johnson, then he will be disappointed. It's doubtful he could even find the place on a map.

In a 4,200-word essay published by his main media cheerleader, the 'Daily Telegraph', Mr Johnson laid out his dream of a "bold Brexit". The words "Northern Ireland" never appeared.

Instead, it was packed full of the usual meaningless testosterone-fuelled rhetoric - the need to have the "stamina and the guts to pull it off" - but also contained a prophetic aside.

"We have been able to blame bureaucracy and to blame Brussels, and my point is that after Brexit we will no longer be able to blame anyone but ourselves. Our destiny will be in our hands and that will be immensely healthy," he wrote.

For Mr Johnson, if he gets to Number 10, he will have nowhere left to hide, no one else to blame if he fails to live up to the wild promises he has made to the party faithful.

History will not be kind if he serves up his country on a platter to the ideologues in his party.

Irish Independent

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