The foreign secretary’s much-anticipated speech was short on detail, but it made it clear we’re heading for a harsh future
For all the hype, the long-awaited Brexit speech that Boris Johnson delivered today amounted to no more than, in his words, another inverted pyramid of piffle. What we, the people, were hoping for – yearning for, in fact, and certainly had every right to expect – was his Valentine’s Day message to be the moment he finally came clean about Brexit. We’ve had the snake-oil salesman’s patter. What the country urgently needs are the mechanics: we want to know precisely how this Brexit flat pack you have talked us into buying at great cost is actually going to be assembled.
For a start, he needed to address the worst-case scenario: what would happen if we botched this thing’s construction. He needed to spell out that no deal in the talks with the EU would mean no transitional period – and that would mean, certainly in the short term, a run on the pound, businesses exiting and the likelihood of unemployment rising sharply.
He needed to own up to the fact, too, that there can be no talk of future free trade agreements with other countries. Not because the EU is punishing us or being difficult, but because this is clearly set out in law under article 218 of the Lisbon treaty, which we are signed up to. He should have also said we could all read the unredacted Brexit impact reports, and, after giving the people this information, allow them a vote in October. That is how best to proceed along the road to unity, before we reach the point of no return. It is only right that we, the people, get to have a say on this country’s biggest decision in 70 years.
Instead, Johnson said that a second EU referendum would be bad for us. Bad for us, or bad for him? The government has clearly decided we will be leaving the customs union and single market, but he had not a word to say on the practical consequences of doing either of these things – what exactly will they mean in terms of workers’ rights? Neither did contingency planning seem to be a concern of his, even – astonishingly – in relation to the Irish border.
Johnson’s big speech was extraordinary for what it could not even be bothered to say. Look beyond his hijacking of the word “liberal” and what he shows us is an illiberal, anti-British agenda of lower regulation on food, toys, consumer protection, money laundering, democracy and the rule of law. A Brexit Britain that will navigate its way in the world without a moral compass.
There is no doubt in my mind that for very wealthy people – Johnson supporters such as Rupert Murdoch and the Barclay brothers, for instance – Brexit really will be a wonderful thing. They will be able to operate in a country with fewer obligations to employees and certainly less tax to pay.
The last thing that Johnson would ever want to admit, however, is that Brexit is for the few and not the many. That is why, for anyone wanting to know the finer details, his message was, to all intents and purposes, “go whistle”.
For ordinary working people, however, the foreign secretary’s so-called big speech made it painfully obvious that they are going to have to get ready for a cold, heartless new post-Brexit world.
• Gina Miller was the lead claimant in the successful legal fight to allow parliament to vote on whether the UK could start the process of leaving the EU