This was first posted on Facebook on 4th February 2020, with support from my Ko-Fi network.
Boris Johnson and his Ministers said a lot of stuff over the weekend about breaking the Withdrawal Agreement.
He may actually mean what he said, but we don’t know if he does, because we can’t trust anything Boris Johnson says.
And at the moment, this is all just words. Lots and lots of wild, distracting, frightening words.
There are solid domestic reasons why Johnson would want to spend the first weekend after #BrexitDay loudly flag-waving – he took The Brexit Party Limited vote from Farage, he got the support of the European Research Group MPs, but all of this can fade away if he doesn’t continue to be the most pro-Brexit Prime Minister he can be – with the handicap of not being able to mention the word Brexit.
Or to release the Russia report.
What is important is not following Boris Johnson’s speeches, or Number 10 briefings, or Ministers making noises on TV: we need to track the actions of this government.
First: On Thursday last week Sajid Javid ordered every government department to “find” 5% cuts in order to focus the money freed up on the PM’s priorities. So much for an end to austerity. These cuts must be found by 2nd March.
On 11th March, the day Scottish local authorities are legally required to have their budget set for the coming financial year, Sajid Javid will announce the Conservatives’ first Budget since Monday 29 October 2018. There was supposed to be a budget annouced 6th November 2019, but there was a general election instead.
Ordinarily, the Scottish Government sets their budget – including the money going to local authorities – after they find out the size of the block grant going to Scotland from the UK budget. This year, the Scottish Government is announcing their budget on 6th February, to give Scottish local authorities time to figure out their budget before the legal deadline of 11th March. If the UK government announces a cut in the block grant on 11th March, the Scottish Government may be in a financial pickle. This will, by the London-based media, by the Tory government, and likely by Labour too, be blamed entirely on the SNP’s bad financial management.
All of this is a much bigger story than the foul nonsense Boris Johnson and his minions were spouting over the weekend, but how much did you hear about it and how much did you hear about Boris Johnson picking a fight with the EU?
Note: Johnson might pick a fight with the EU over the WA and the trade agreement. I’m just saying he hasn’t yet because the negotiations haven’t started yet. When the negotiations do get started, 1st March is the official date, I fully anticipate that Boris Johnson and his minions will then be busy with lots of pre-Budget leaks so you don’t hear about what’s going on at the negotiation table.
Nice timing. Good distractions.
Look at what they’re doing, and not what they’re saying.
Yesterday, at what should have been a routine Downing Street briefing by the senior civil servants who do that, the senior journalists who attended found themselves being divided up into the sheep and the goats. The good journalists, the ones Dominic Cummings feels likely to report exactly what Number 10 tells them as if it were factual, were to be allowed to attend the briefing. The bad goats, the lively journalists who might ask the wrong questions or make fun or call out a lying liar, were all to be kept outside.
To do them credit, when the journalists realised what was happening, sheep and goats together all walked out and refused to attend the briefing at all. But many of the sheep – including Laura Kuenssberg, BBC political editor, did not then report what had happened. We know it did because the goats tweeted about it.
Journalists of all political stripes are praising the sheep for walking out. And that was obviously the right thing for them to do. But it is worth considering that had the briefing happened and then each sheep had been given a personal invitation to have a private little chat and get the inside info, they would absolutely have accepted and then published as factual news the story given them in their special briefing. This time the division into sheep and goats happened publicly and shamelessly, that’s all.
There was a story about Nissan circulating recently – a classic Number Ten briefing. The first part of the story is all about a plan which it is claimed has been made for Nissan to pull out of the EU and massively increase its sales in the UK. The headline in the Guardian is “Nissan ‘could pull out of EU and expand in UK after hard Brexit'” – but this story has been reported in similar terms elsewhere.
Nissan’s response: “We deny such a contingency plan exists. We’ve modelled every possible ramification of Brexit and the fact remains that our entire business both in the UK and in Europe is not sustainable in the event of WTO [World Trade Organization] tariffs.”
Another version – not an officially published story – has Brexiters claiming the only reason Japanese car makers will pull out of the UK is because there’s been too much talk about climate change in UK politics.
And by the way, Claire O’Neill, last week the president of the COP 26 global climate change conference to be held in Glasgow in November, was sacked by Dominic Cummings on Friday. She has since said there has been “huge lack of leadership and engagement” from Boris Johnson’s government on this issue, and says Johnson’s personal animosity towards Nicola Sturgeon is endangering the success of the summit.
“My advice to anybody to whom Boris is making promises – whether it is voters, world leaders, ministers, employees or indeed, to family members – is to get it in writing, get a lawyer to look at it and make sure the money is in the bank.”
Boris Johnson’s sabre-rattling against the EU and the WA agreement over the weekend is promises to Brexiters that he’ll still be their Brexiter Prime Minister even though he won’t say Brexit. They may find him no more reliable than anyone else ever has.
Watch what Boris Johnson’s doing, not what he’s saying.
Michael Gove may promise the racist vote that “Islamic terror offenders” will be jailed “indefinitely”: but in practice the Conservatives will find it hard to get this dramatic change in the law and in legal principle through the House of Lords, even if his 80+ majority votes for it lockstep in the Commons.
The Johnson team like to sound like fascists. They know that wins them the popular support of most of the media and of their Brexiter voters. But wheter they can act like fascists is another matter. If you have a Conservative MP, write to your MP: be a disappointed constituent, not an angry enemy. We may never whittle down that 80+ majority in the Commons in the term of this Parliament, but if you have a Tory MP they can and should get worried about what their constituents are thinking of them when they vote for Boris Johnson’s policies.