“Answer the bloody question,” a member of the conservative party said in the first heckle during the many hustings for the conservative leadership.
A somewhat dejected Boris Johnson, the likely next Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, had just come out of the greatest political interview in living memory.
In a short 30 minutes, Andrew Neil had the country on edge as he inspired the youngsters of his profession with a forensic questioning session that led the country and Boris Johnson to appreciate just what is at stake.
“Loose lips lose ships,” is a memorable line. The astonishment felt throughout the country at Boris Johnson revealing himself as having no clue just what a law he wishes to rely on says, was another far more memorable line:
“AN: Only recently you claimed that we could leave on no deal and we just carry on trading with the EU as now, pending a new trade agreement to be done. You now know that’s not true, don’t you?
BJ: Well, it depends what sort of terms you strike with the EU. It might be possible and I accept that this has to be done by mutual agreement but it might be possible, for instance, as we come out to agree under GATT 24 paragraph 5B that both sides agree to a standstill, a protraction of their existing zero tariff, zero quota arrangements until such time as we do a free trade deal. And that will be one way forward. And that would be very attractive and of course it will be up to our friends and partners to decide whether they wanted to go along with that.
AN: So how would you handle – you talk about Article 5B in GATT 24 –
BJ: Paragraph 5B. Article 24. Get the detail right. Get the detail right, Andrew. It’s Article 24 paragraph 5B.
AN: And how would you handle paragraph 5C?
BJ: I would confide entirely in paragraph 5B, because that is –
AN: How would you get round what’s in 5C?
BJ: I would confide entirely in paragraph 5B which is enough for our purposes.
AN: Do you know what’s in 5C?
AN: I thought you were a man of detail.
BJ: Well, you didn’t even know whether it was an article or a paragraph, but –
AN: But that’s not the details you told those Tory hustings…
BJ: There’s enough in paragraph 5B to get us the agreement that we want.
AN: No. 5C says you don’t just need the EU’s approval; you need to agree with the EU the shape of a future trade agreement –
AN: And a timetable to getting towards it.”
That’s a bombshell in some ways with paragraph 5c stating: “any interim agreement referred to in subparagraphs (a) and (b) shall include a plan and schedule for the formation of such a customs union or of such a free-trade area within a reasonable length of time.”
A plan and schedule with it all done in three months. It is possible because the May agreement does include a general plan of sorts for the trade agreement, but whether it is possible with Boris who has not even bothered to do his homework, is a very different matter.
“In Brussels, Boris is seen as the anti-Christ,” says a European diplomatic source according to CNN.
He is apparently behind the euromyths of Brussels banning curvy bananas with Boris fired from a previous journalistic job for fabricating quotes.
Making it very unclear what he will come back with from Brussels as the gravity of the matter now downs on the country with Boris Johnson refusing to rule out the suspension of parliament itself, an act that previously led to the brief overthrowing of the monarchy in the 1600s.
Just as it is unclear what reception he will receive in the palaces of Europe, with far more at stake here than mere economics.
Pound rose slightly following the interview as markets keep evaluating the chances of a no deal exit, with little really having changed except perhaps a now slightly more informed Boris Johnson.
There’s only so much that relies on him, with plenty relying on the 27 EU members who have to agree to a deal.
There are dangers from their side politically, with such dangers being both if they agree and if they don’t.
Naturally they would not want to facilitate cherry picking as then every member would rather have some benefit, but not some obligation.
Naturally they would also not want a chaotic exit, but a trade deal usually takes a decade or more. There’s countless of things that would have to be considered, negotiated, and argued over. Reaching even a very broad brush agreement in three months is mission impossible.
Johnson might be able to, but what is very concerning now is whether he even has a clue of what exactly he wants, what exactly he plans to offer, and how exactly he is going to get it, beyond threatening EU and the country with suspending democracy.
He apparently spent weeks preparing for this interview, presumably preparing on how not to answer the question and run down the clock by shouting over Neil.
The latter however is clearly very smart, very experienced, and knows very well the high duty of someone in his position to reveal the truth to the public, the truth being he has not even read the law he went on about for months.
That brings to mind what happened after Brexit won, with the country quickly falling into political purgatory as they all scattered away without any plan and left May on her own to figure out just what exactly does Brexit mean.
As it stands, we still do not know. It’s not clear whether Boris does beyond the childish “just leave,” but we should know soon enough, perhaps by September when hopefully there is a general election for the country to decide whether to suspend Boris or whether he’s actually managed to come back with an agreeable piece of paper that hopefully this time will actually secure peace.