News, Culture & Society

Boris twists the knife: Johnson blasts May for ‘kowtowing’ to Brussels

It is now 20 years since I came here to test drive the 3CX backhoe loader and it is fantastic to discover that you have sold nearly seven hundred and fifty thousand (750,000) backhoes to over 150 countries.

With the optimism and relentless technological innovation that I believe should be the hallmarks of the next phase of Brexit.

And if you are privileged to drive one of these custard colossi you will find that they can move almost any obstacle out of their path. Tonnes of rock or mud or gravel – and they can do it fast.

But if you engage the wrong gear then pow – that’s a new entrance you’ve made to your house.

And as I look now at the barriers in the path of this country and a smooth departure from the EU, there is no doubt that there are still a few boulders lying around.

But I fear that at present we are facing the wrong direction

and trying to change the wrong bit of the landscape

And if we spend the next few weeks hydraulically straining to move MPs from one camp to the other pointlessly trying to get Corbyn to parley at Number Ten we will be wasting our time.

Because this deal – the Prime Minister’s deal – was thrown out by a record 230 votes, the largest majority in parliamentary history.

And that was for the very good reason that it does not correspond to the result of the 2016 referendum.

When 118 Tory MPs voted against this ex withdrawal agreement it was because leavers and Remainers were united in their dismay at a deal that keeps us locked in the customs union – unable to do free trade deals.

Unable to cut tariffs on our own – whether to make food cheaper or to help African farmers – a deal that turns us into non-voting members of the EU single market forced to take rules from Brussels.

So that this great company would have to accept whatever whimsical specifications Brussels comes up with for JCBs sold not just in the EU but in the UK too and with no say by UK officials or ministers in the devising of those rules

And that means that if the EU commission decided that there was some innovation taking place here in the UK of which it disapproved – perhaps because it threatened the market share of continental rivals.

Then they could pass a directive and snuff that development out – and the UK would have no choice but to obey.

Unless of course the government was willing to do the unthinkable and give up control of Northern Ireland

Does that seem like a good deal to you?

That is not Brexit; that is not democracy. That is a betrayal of the long term interests of UK companies.

It makes me utterly furious that a UK government could even contemplate such an arrangement.

That is why parliament voted down that deal so heavily

The answer is not to try to heave MPs back into place

And get them to back it at the second time of asking.

Nor is it sensible to use parliament to try to construct some new and desperate expedient.

The Norway option, the Norway plus option, a second referendum, a people’s vote (as opposed to what – an animals’ vote?)

All of which have been discounted by the PM because they would be an even bigger betrayal of Brexit.

And it seems incredible that anyone could imagine the solution was membership of the customs union – a flat contradiction not just of the referendum but of the Conservative manifesto

The answer is to turn our wheels round to face the real obstacle.

We need to stop battling each other and focus our efforts on Brussels.

We need to escape the trap of the Irish backstop and it is frankly more than disappointing that in the five weeks since the deal was whisked off the table, before parliament could vote it down, we have not even tried to get rid of it.

We have not even asked.

And I know what people will say.

They will say that it is not possible, that we won’t have a chance of shifting the great marmoreal edifice of the European Commission.

I really, really do not believe that to be true – because the notional purpose of the backstop is to prevent a hard border in Northern Ireland and yet no one in Dublin or London or Brussels wants a hard border, intends a hard border, or thinks a hard border is remotely necessary.

And so it is time for us to go back to Brussels fortified with the emphatic and conclusive mandate of parliament.

And demand real change to that backstop.

And mean it, this time

So that Britain can get out unilaterally

And whatever they are now saying I believe they will be flexible.

Because anyone who has followed the EU can tell you that it is only in the last few weeks and days of a long negotiation that the big concessions are made.

And with their economies stuttering, and with a £95bn surplus with the UK in goods alone the EU leaders have every incentive to listen to us.

And give us what we need – and already we are hearing positive noises from Germany

But we must have the courage to ask and we must mean it.

Will the UK government do it? We have to.

By law, on March 29, the UK must leave.

The only way to extend or revoke article 50 is with the approval of the EU and at the initiative of the UK government.

And it would be shameful at this late stage to change that totemic date – the one fact to which the public has been able to cling with absolute certainty.

In this sea of politically generated confusion.

All this vacuous talk of extending article 50 is not only dishonest – but we are once again weakening our own negotiating position.

It would be preposterous if we were to find ourselves obliged to pay yet more to recruit candidates for another round European parliament elections.

And I am afraid the public would have the strong – and altogether justified impression – of an elite conspiracy to thwart Brexit.

To extend article 50 now would do nothing but erode trust in politics.

And as for the suggestion that parliament might veto what some are calling the catastrophe of No Deal.

It entails the logical peculiarity of trying to stop something from not happening.

It is also a bit of a waste of breath.

I believe that there is a very good chance, indeed overwhelmingly likely, that we will leave with a deal – we just won’t leave with this deal.

The best way forward now – as outlined by former Dexeu secretaries David Davis and Dominic Raab – is to agree to keep what is good in the deal.

Especially the protections for the 3.2 million EU citizens in this country,

And for the sake of clarity and out of compassion for their families we should unilaterally put those commitments into statute now.

We should agree on all sides that there will be no hard border in Northern Ireland.

But we should take out the Irish backstop and use the transition period.

With a mutual commitment to maintain the status quo – zero tariffs, quotas or regulatory checks – to negotiate a new free trade deal.

And a new partnership, not based on the backstop, as is currently proposed, but on the PM’s Lancaster House speech.

And we should withhold at least half of the £39 bn until that deal is concluded.

If we mean it , if we are determined, and if we make it clear that this is our best and final offer, I would be utterly amazed if we cannot get agreement on these terms.

And even if the EU side were so obdurate and self-destructive as to turn us down, and to insist on tariffs and checks.

Even if they decided to try to punish the UK, then the truth is that as we approach that deadline of the end of March we are finding that even in that eventuality bureaucratic and logistical problems that had previously seemed insoluble are melting in the face of human creativity.

It is not just Jean-Marc Puissesseau of Calais who is sounding more confident. Listen to Eurotunnel or indeed to the clarion call of Lord Bamford who wrote last week that he relishes the prospect of a clean Global Brexit and trading on WTO terms as JCB already does around the world.

I don’t want to pretend there will be no challenges and no changes to cope with.

Of course there will be.

But I say to all those who believe in the democratic freedoms of this country

We are more than up to it.

We have got so far.

We are almost there.

Let us not give up now.

Because if we hold our nerve I believe we can deliver not a pseudo Brexit in which we leave the EU but end up being run by the EU.

But the Brexit people voted for with all the potential advantages and opportunities.

And if we get it right now – and have some courage – we can forestall the years of wrangling and uncertainty that I am afraid will be the legacy of this deal.

And we can stop talking about the process of Brexit.

And start talking about what Brexit can deliver for the people of this country.

And we can use Brexit to bring this country together.

And the best way to unite us is really to address the issues that drove us to leave.

Yes it was about democracy, yes it was about a desire to run ourselves and a feeling of that the project of political union was not right for the UK.

But that vote, was also triggered by a feeling that in some way the people of this country has been drifting too far apart – and in areas where we need to come together.

We all know about boardroom pay and the huge expansion in the last 25 years of the gap between the remuneration of FTSE 100 CEOs and the average workers in their firms.

We know one of the ways big corporations have held wages down is that they have had access to unlimited pools of labour from other countries.

Now I am a free market capitalist and a passionate believer in the benefits of migration which enriches our country, which brings talent ,and which by the way is a tribute to our country – but there must be a balance.

And if an influx of labour is being used not only to prevent investment in capital equipment.

But also in the skills and prospects of young people then we need to think carefully about how we control immigration.

And if as it seems a tightening of the labour market since the vote is actually contributing to a rise in take home pay.

Then I say that is good news because this country deserves a pay rise and it is good news that companies like Travelodge have announced they are taking on 400 more unemployed parents in this country.

And so if Brexit helps those people to earn a little more and if it holds out the prospect of cheaper food and clothes then we should welcome those developments and instead of treating Brexit as a problem.

Instead of kowtowing to Brussels and keeping ourselves tied to the EU apron strings we should be thinking of all the ways we can use this moment to become more productive and more dynamic.

Because if we want the people of Britain to have a pay rise, as I do, then we can’t expect to do it by simply controlling immigration.

We have to address all the causes of the productivity gap that has so massively expanded.

And I don’t mean the gap between the UK, France Germany and Italy, though we are behind our main competitors.

The most worrying gap is between London, the most productive part of the whole European economy and other countries and regions in the UK.

And if you look at the distribution of the Brexit vote, it is clear that people felt that gap in attainments and prospects.

And that they wanted something done.

And if we are to bring our nation together that means investing in great public services.

First and foremost safer streets, cutting crime, and holding the mayor of London responsible for his failings – the new guy, not the old one.

Better hospitals, better transport links, better housing and to that end we should be devolving power to cities in coherent regions.

Taking council tax, business rates stamp duty, land tax and the annual tax on enveloped dwellings, bundling them together giving them to local mayors and politicians to spend so that they have clear incentives to go for growth.

We should use the freedoms of Brexit to speed up the planning process and to create freeports

There are now 135 countries in the world that have such freeports with all their power to attract the growth of all kind and it is absurd that Britain will be forbidden by this deal from doing the same.

And the way to generate the cash to pay for this national cohesion is not to attack London or the City.

Because with 24% of GDP London is the motor and the gateway.

The answer is to create the most favourable tax environment in Europe with no new taxes and no increases in rates and no one rich or poor to pay more than 50% of their income in tax.

Not because we want to create a tax haven for the rich but because that it is the way to stimulate the income we need to pay for this national programme of cohesion.

And I want to explain why this matters so much.

This idea of national cohesion

Because I am not a nationalist if by that you mean a xenophobe or someone that deprecates other countries and cultures – far from it.

But I do believe that the idea of belonging to a nation or group can be immensely powerful and positive.

And I remember the moment this country came together during the 2012 Olympics and there were two great emotions at work.

A sense of joy at being able to welcome the world to the UK and to show off our capital and that feeling was globalist and internationalist.

But there was also deep pride in this country.

Because in the end we were rooting for team GB and we were doing it together.

And there should be nothing embarrassing about that feeling because if people have that sense of belonging and being part of the same team then you will massively increase not just their sense of community and obligation to each other but also their sense of what they can achieve.

And if we can harness that spirit of teamwork and self-belief then we will easily meet the challenge of Brexit and indeed I believe if we get it right we can use this experience to reinforce our national optimism and confidence.

Because every study shows that people feel happiest and most successful when they have control over their lives.

And it is that feeling of autonomy, the self-determination which goes hand in hand with pride, that is ultimately what Brexit is all about.

The excitement and satisfaction that comes from the sense of having our destiny in our hands.

And using that autonomy to innovate in tech or data or bio-science or artificial intelligence or robotics or finance in a way that may be undreamt of by the EU commission.

And this should be the greatest place in the world in which to turn a wacky idea into a world-beater.

Joseph Cyril Bamford came up with the idea of mounting a great big shovel on the front of a tractor in 1945.

And the world is now populated with the descendants of that tractor – and nothing and no one will stop their spread.

And to achieve that creative autonomy we must follow the logic of what parliament has voted for.

No to this deal and yes to exit on March 29.

And whatever terms we come up with for exit – and I believe they will be favourable – I confidently prophesy that with their infinite resource the people of this country will manage the change.

And I tell you now that whatever the doomsters may say:

There will still be Mars Bars made in this country from April

There will still be drinking water.

The planes will fly.

And as JCB has demonstrated there is absolutely nothing, no bureaucratic prejudice or impediment, that has been able to stop a British-made backhoe loader from roaring on to building sites around the world – and creating thousands of jobs in this country.

So let us fire up the engines, emulate the spirit of JCB and remove from our path the backstop that is the last Brussels-built obstruction to a global Britain.




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