Johnson says that the process will be over and done with in just a year. But if that's the case, why won't he discuss what comes next?by Emma Burnell / November 20, 2019 / Leave a comment
Boris Johnson wants you to believe two contradictory things simultaneously. Firstly, that Brexit is going to be easy and be done and dusted within a year. At the same time, Brexit is all-encompassing and the only thing that must be discussed at this election.
This became ever more obvious last night as every question in the head to head debate between Johnson and Corbyn was brought back to Brexit by the former. In the end, the audience were ironically cheering every time he did it in the manner of people who have become quite radically inebriated while playing a drinking game. (If you had to do a shot every time Johnson answered a question on anything with an answer on Brexit, you would be dead.)
You can see why he’s adopted this tack. Brexit is the comfort zone he has chosen to fight this election on. He has abandoned any attempt to appeal to remain voters in the hope of bagging former Labour and Brexit Party leave voters. While also hoping that enough of his remain coalition will be spooked enough by Corbyn to either stay Tory or stay home.
Meanwhile, Brexit is clearly Corbyn’s least favoured subject. He squirms even when giving Labour’s agreed line—and that agreed line is not a simple as “Get Brexit done,” so it is obviously less effective as a soundbite. While that shouldn’t matter, in this format, it does. When the audience laugh at you saying you’re being clear, that’s not a great sign. Corbyn’s discomfort showed as much as Johnson’s glee in capitalising on it did. When the topic moved elsewhere he was better, landing blows over the NHS in particular.
The Tories have a few policies as window dressing, but even when asked about these, Johnson breezes past them straight back to his one argument on Brexit. As a result, the public is not being even slightly informed on what he sees as the priorities for the other four years of a fixed-term government (technically how the UK is supposed to work under the Fixed Term Parliament Act), despite these being the ones he claims musn’t be taken up with a drawn-out Brexit.
The public deserves the truth. And that truth is that no matter who wins this election—or what happens to Brexit after it—this is going to take many years Remainers will always seek to have a new referendum to overturn the result. If that happens, Leavers are not going to just give up and go away. And if Johnson’s deal passes, that will still just be the easy bit. The messier, harder, more complex future relationship—the one that Johnson has promised to sort within a year—will take so much more effort and goodwill than the Withdrawal Agreement. Johnson seems unwilling to put in the former and the latter is lacking on all sides after a bruising three years.
Johnson knows this, which may well be why his agenda is so light elsewhere. It’s hard to promise details on spending when you just don’t know what Brexit will cost. Meanwhile, it’s not electorally expedient to admit that Brexit will be all-consuming. So, he simply pivots back to his one talking point: that he will “get Brexit done.”
Johnson is trying to fight the same election as Theresa May attempted in 2017, but with a few unlikely-sounding spending promises rather than the granny tax. His Brexit is harder, but his rhetoric is softer, and he is hoping this will make all the difference.
But the next time he is at a podium or being interviewed, any journalist worth their salt needs to ask the obvious question: If Brexit is going to be so easy, if it will be over so quickly, why won’t you talk about anything else?