Boris Johnson and the Brexit Ultras Deserve Each Other

Brexit is a fantasy. Who better to carry it out than the biggest fantasist in British politics?

Then-British foreign secretary Boris Johnson answers questions from reporters at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, June 18
Then-British foreign secretary Boris Johnson answers questions from reporters at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, June 18 (UN/Jean-Marc Ferré)

When Boris Johnson’s last bid for the Conservative Party’s leadership failed, I argued here that the former mayor of London’s many flipflops had finally caught up with him.

“You can only change your mind so many times before people start to see you for the political opportunist you are,” I wrote.

My mistake was to think the British right cares about principle and integrity.

Who cares?

In fact, most Conservatives don’t care about anything but Brexit anymore.

According to a recent YouGov survey, six in ten of the party’s members, who will elect the new leader and prime minister, would let Northern Ireland and Scotland leave the United Kingdom, and the British economy tank, if that’s what it takes to get out of the EU.

54 percent would even be willing to destroy their own party in the process.

With Johnson as leader, chances of that happening will certainly rise.

Betrayal of the union

This, of course, is not conservatism, and it is a betrayal of unionism.

In risking a hard exit from the EU (meaning no arrangements for trade, the Irish border and the millions of EU citizens who live and work in the UK and the 1.2 million Brits who live and work on the continent), Conservatives are alienating the majority of Scots, who voted to remain in the bloc in the 2016 referendum.

Moreover, by allying with hardline unionists from Northern Ireland, they have alienated Irish nationalists and non-sectarian voters in the province who, like most Scots, would prefer to stay in the EU.

Radicalized

Johnson’s career mirrors his party’s radicalization. Once liberal and proudly pro-immigration, he chose to lead the reactionary and xenophobic cause of Brexit. He never bothered to defend this about-face as motivated by anything other than political calculation.

Others have done a better job of tracking Johnson’s many hypocrisies than me. Jeremy Cliffe’s 2016 feature in The Economist‘s 1843 magazine is a good place to start. The picture that emerges is of a man who is willing to betray anyone and anything to achieve his life’s ambition: to become prime minister. Inevitably, he will betray the Brexiteers who now pin their hopes on him.

They deserve each other. Brexit as an ideology — the idea that Britain will be better off outside the EU — was always a fantasy. Who better to carry it out than the biggest fantasist in British politics?