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Leavers Like Boris Johnson Harm Their Brexit Cause More Than Its Critics

18/09/2017 17:28
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He's at it again. The publicity-craving Foreign Secretary has been largely silent and off-line for much of his poor start as Foreign Secretary. While he has failed to deliver anything new of substance as a senior minister, Boris tries to make up for it in a 4,200 word rant for the Daily Telegraph on what "Brexit means Brexit" should really mean.

It raises a key question: so why did he do it?

It appears to be a clear attempt to bully a weak PM to deliver on his undeliverable promises made over the course of the EU Referendum campaign. Boris has reportedly been stung by criticisms that he lied during the campaign and his piece was an act of self-defence aimed at salvaging some part of his reputation.

It hasn't worked. Especially damaging to his credibility was the frequent claim that leaving the EU would mean £350 million extra per week for the NHS. The ONS has been clear through the EU Referendum campaign that the figure was a "misuse" of official statistics. Britain does not pay that amount to Brussels - and within hours of the Brexit win it was confirmed no new money to the NHS was forthcoming Brexit or no Brexit. Making it worse for Boris, the ONS chief has again called him out for peddling a porky in repeating the false £350m claim.

While May appears too weak to sack a disloyal senior member of her Cabinet, Johnson's influence so poor he must take to the papers to find the support he clearly lacks in the Cabinet. With Number 10 so keen to micromanage, Boris must be feeling hamstrung as Foreign Secretary with such limited discretion. We must wonder why anyone sitting at the top table must resort to the papers to let the PM know his views. A strong sign that he has been marginalised and left out to pasture - and that Boris feels May too weak to sack him for any apparent disloyalty.

For all the many attacks on Brexit sceptics for how they talk down Britain's potential, this very public spat at the heart of government is even worse for weakening the government's already poor hand. If the PM thought she had a difficult time before, it's only worse now. Ironically, it's mostly because of meddling by pro-Brexit ministers like Boris rather than criticisms from pro-Remain sceptics.

Yes, EU negotiators likely to continue highlighting split among the British public for what they want out of Brexit. But a split at the Cabinet table is much more damaging. It is almost beyond comprehension that Theresa May triggered Brexit without any clear, specific plans for what she wanted, how she would get it or how it could be delivered -- and without a Cabinet fully in support. If she can't carry them, why think she can carry the country?

Then again a Prime Minister that thought she could take the public for granted in calling a snap election - leading to her losing a majority in Parliament - might also be taking her own ministers for granted. We're all the worse off for it.

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