THE BLOG

Why Banana-gate Is Shaking the Splitters

02/06/2016 11:57

Historians may judge that Boris Johnson's now infamous slip-up about bananas was the moment when the Brexit campaign finally skidded into the dustbin of history.

Last month, Boris in one of his trademark spoon-thumping rants about the EU, demanded to know why the overweening bureaucrats of Brussels prevent British grocers from selling bananas in bunches of more than two or three.

This assertion met with blank looks from everyone who has ever done their own food shopping as it is clearly untrue.

But far from being easily brushed off, the slip seems to be sticking to the news wall and creating a bit of a stink. BBC Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg documentary on the referendum "Britain and Europe: For Richer or Poorer" which aired this week featured her buying a bunch of bananas at a market stall. The Sun yesterday had an article about reality TV star Joey Essex who is making a doc about the EU referendum. He honed in on the heart of the matter, saying Boris was a bit "nutty" for his banana remark, adding "I don't get the whole bananas situation". A recent essay in the Guardian on the future of the European Union was illustrated with a photo of a man dressed as a gorilla waving bananas and a sign saying "I Eat Five In A Bunch, Boris".

There was a fracas at a meeting when this protestor, a teenager in gorilla suit was apparently punched by a Brexiter. Another protester has appeared at recent rallies dressed as a banana with a sign saying "Stop the Lies, Boris".

Britain has embraced the banana row. It has become one of those sound bites that will never go away. It will feature in any video montage of the Brexit campaign, and probably, many decades hence, in the obituary of the former Mayor of London.

Far from feeling mushed by all this, Johnson delivered a second rant on the subject, excoriating along with banana regulations, restrictions on hoover size. Perhaps he dimly imagined a larger hoover could remove the stain left by banana-gate.

But there is more to this than just a bit of light relief in a dull campaign.

Most people have no real way of testing the veracity or otherwise of many of the claims made by the Leave or Remain side in this referendum. But hearing Johnson's' claim about the bananas in his stump speech, you can't fail to spot the easy, fluent, careless lie.

It is quite shocking to many people that a senior politician and one whom they have been looking to for leadership on a matter of national importance, would get up and make such a claim. Where did he get it from? He obviously didn't do much homework on it. It's a sign of how far Johnson has traveled down the road of blustering bravado. You don't know what he is going to say next. His tongue seems to run away with him. It may make him an interesting lunch companion but perhaps not someone to trust with your pension.

It is hard to imagine some of the Remain supporters: Alistair Darling, Mark Carney, Christine Lagarde, Barack Obama talking like this. It's a reminder that the calibre of those on the Remain side heftily outweighs that of those on the leave side. They have actually got the top bananas,a nd more than two or three.

You see the same 'Leave' faces over and over again and as the campaign goes on and they seem ever more desperate. They have long ago thrown caution to the winds, now piling everything on the bonfire of the vanities: their reputations, their friendships, even their integrity. Michael Gove was suspected of leaking an old conversation with the Queen to the tabloids; on another occasion he was accused of doing the same with a private letter. Is there going to be a way back for them into frontline politics?

The second reason "banana-gate" is important is that it exposes the fact that many of the Leave campaigns complaints about the EU are frankly footling. These are not serious matters.
There are problems of course, but Britain is not doing so badly. Unemployment is relatively low. Judged on a global level, migration is moderate. Rules about bananas are matters that can be addressed within the European Union.

The Leave-ers are very concerned about protecting Westminster's influence, because that's the small pond in which they feel important. Engaging in negotiations within the bigger institutions of the European Union is tough. it's a job for grown ups who know they they are talking about. Johnson need not apply.

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