The mythmaking continues fuelled by a sombre Boris Johnson
Except the need to gradually unmake promises made, reduce expectations, prepare voters for inevitable disappointment and buyers’ remorse
The great British ship of state is drifting rudderless. To compound the biggest political and constitutional crisis in generations, a crisis of leadership. Its captain, prime minister David Cameron, the man who “never quits”, serves on pending the election of a replacement but making it clear that all key decisions over the UK-EU negotiations will be taken by his successor. First mate, chancellor George Osborne, makes soothing noises to calm markets. Its two main, once-great, political parties in meltdown.
And those who led the victorious Leave campaign, as shocked as everyone by their own success, have no more clue about what to do now than they had during the campaign.
Except the need to gradually unmake the promises made, reduce expectations, prepare voters for inevitable disappointment and buyers’ remorse. Unfortunately there is no legal right to send back the goods within 10 days if disappointed.
No, say Boris Johnson and MEP Daniel Hannan, the vote was not really about immigration, and reducing numbers is not the point. No, the fictitious savings of £350 million a week will not all go to the NHS. Only “some” of it ... Not exactly what was written on the Leave battle bus. Farmers of Northern Ireland please take note... And, surprise, surprise, Vote Leave has pressed delete on its website’s “history” of speeches and pledges.
Johnson, the frontrunner to be the next prime minister, eschewing his clowning for once, set out on Monday in his Daily Telegraph column in a suitably sombre tone his latest insistence that the situation is “stable”, complaining as ever that the “upside is being ignored” by the cynical press. The markets are actually up, he assures the British people, the pound is higher than it was in 2013. “The fundamentals of the UK economy are outstandingly strong,” he insists, claiming “We should be incredibly proud and positive about the UK and what it can now achieve”.
And , to cap it all “I cannot stress too much that Britain is part of Europe and will always be”, he wrote, promising “intensifying cooperation and partnership in a huge number of fields”. And that “British people will still be able to go and work in the EU, to live, to travel, to study, to buy homes , to settle down...and ... there will continue to be free trade and access to the single market”.
Er. Well that’s all OK then. What was all the fuss about? No change, then. No change in this cynical, ambitious politician’s mendacity.
But perhaps Johnson is about to learn that you should be careful what you wish for. As Tory grandee Michael Heseltine has pointedly observed, it will now be up to the Brexiteers to lead the negotiators to Brussels, to face, Michael Collins-like, the reproachful hurlers on the ditch back home as they criticise their every stumble, their every U-turn – and there will be many – and their every “betrayal”.