Thursday 19 July 2018

Johnson’s leaked Brexit comments are welcome clue to British tactics


Editorial Comment

The latests comments on Brexit by British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson offer a revealing insight into where the British Government really stands in its increasingly thorny negotiations with the EU.

Many commentators have greeted Johnson's comments with shock and dismay but in truth they should probably be welcomed.

To know how the other side is thinking is key in any game of diplomatic chess and the insights into Johnson's and his Government's private views on Brexit should, at least, be useful.

Despite Theresa May's insistence that Britain wants to work with Europe to find a workable solution - including the vexed issue of the Irish Border - it is now clear that Boris and his fellow 'Leavers' think that a hard Brexit is inevitable and don't care.

"You've got to face the fact there may now be a meltdown. OK? I don't want anybody to panic during the meltdown. No panic. Pro bono publico, no bloody panic. It's going to be all right in the end," was how Mr Johnson described the likely Brexit scenario to members of the Conservative Way Forward, Thatcherite campaign group.

Johnson also claimed that Theresa May was about to adopt a far more "combative" stance in the Brexit talks with the remaining EU leaders.

While the inside track on Johnson's views will be welcome for the EU negotiating team, his comments on the border will be a concern for Leo Varadkar and the Irish Government.

Given his previous record, Johnson's patronising claim that the Irish border issue was "allowing the tail to wag the dog" isn't particularly surprising.

However, they do make clear that Johnson and his Brexiteer allies have little understanding of the border issue and care about it even less.

This is worrying but, once again, at least now we know exactly where the British Foreign Secretary stands on the matter.

What is, perhaps, most interesting is how Johnson's comment came to be reported on at all.

His discussion with some 20 members of Conservative Way Forward came during a dinner meeting that was being held under, so called, Chatham House Rules. These are supposed to afford those attending such meetings the opportunity to speak freely, frankly and off the record.

Typically - and especially in British political circles - this unwritten rule tends to be obeyed.

While there is the odd leak it remains quite rare for full recordings of such Tory meetings - which are usually gatherings of like-minded individuals - to make their way into the hands of the press.

Boris Johnson might be characterised as something of a buffoon but he is a canny political operator and in recent days he has launched several new attacks on Theresa May and her handling of the Brexit talks. So it's quite a coincidence then that Johnson's own hard line opinions happen to be leaked - in a conveniently broadcastable format - at just the same time.

Enniscorthy Guardian