“I’m rather pro-European, actually. I certainly want a European community where one can go and scoff croissants, drink delicious coffee, learn foreign languages and generally make love to foreign women.”
“We would have to recognise that most of our problems are not caused by Brussels, but by chronic British short-termism, inadequate management, sloth, low skills, a culture of easy gratification and underinvestment in both human and physical capital and infrastructure.”
“Boil it down to the single market, that’s the great achievement of the European Union, I think we could easily scrap the social chapter, the fisheries policy.”
These are not the words of a Liberal Democrat, nor a rebellious Tory Europhile such as Dominic Grieve or Sam Gyimah. No; these quotes stemmed from the mouth of the Britain’s greatest opportunist, and the new tenant of 10 Downing Street, Boris Johnson.
Mr Johnson’s elevation to the highest political office in the land is proof that in these social media-focussed, soundbite-driven political times, a healthy dose of “I’ll tell you what you want to hear” is the best way to climb the ladder. Undoubtedly, Boris’s greatest strength is his unrivalled ability to conceal his true feelings and opinions (if, indeed, he has any at all) beneath a mask of strategic U-turns, interlaced with the rhetoric of a juvenile debating society bully.
The newly elected – or, rather, appointed – Prime Minister’s opinions on Europe are known to be multifarious and changeable; never more so than in March 2016, when he is said to have “wrestled” over whether to back Leave or Remain in the EU referendum campaign. His infamous opinion piece in the Daily Telegraph outlining his vision for a successful post-Brexit Britain was twinned with another article, written at the same time but remaining unpublished (until it was later leaked) in which Johnson cautioned emphatically against the economic downturn that would be triggered by Britain exiting the EU.
His Earth-shattering decision to endorse Leave, of course, pitted him against his close colleague, fellow Bullingdon Club member and lifelong friend, David Cameron. Boris was not unaccustomed to attacking the then-Prime Minister, having previously undermined his 2015 re-election efforts by drawing the public’s attention to Britain’s ever-swelling wealth gap, and gently suggesting that Cameron’s economic policy was at least partly to blame. Cameron was re-elected nonetheless, but Johnson had cemented his position in the Westminster limelight.
Boris’s overwhelming desire to appeal to the masses, to be revered as a sort of charismatic joker who takes nothing too seriously and exhibits a faux-Churchillian spirit of hollow optimism, is the real danger facing Britain at this historic turning point. The man who somehow garnered support from all corners of the Conservative party despite his hardline Brexit stance is not a symbol of political stability or stolid leadership, but a volatile crowd-pleaser who changes tack like the breeze changes direction.
Beware Storm Boris; he might one day turn against those who put their faith in him.