Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. Gloomsters buried the euro too soon (Financial Times)

The end point looks likely to be tighter economic union that falls short of political federalism, writes Philip Stephens.

2. Accountancy's Big Four are laughing all the way to the tax office (Guardian)

Accountancy giants are paid huge sums by the state while helping firms strip it of desperately needed tax revenue, says Polly Toynbee.

3. For Cameron aid is not a badge. It’s a mission (Times) (£)

When the PM is compared to Harold Macmillan it’s usually derogatory, writes Philip Collins. But Africa shows them both at their best.

4. The EU has changed Britain – and mostly for the better (Independent)

Besides the money for infrastructure projects, EU membership has given Brits the chance to see how Europeans do things, and what we could do better, says Mary Dejevsky.

5. Time to protect the UK defence budget (Financial Times)

If necessary, aid spending must be used to shore up the MoD, argues an FT leader.

6. Cameron goes where Blair went before – but at what cost? (Independent)

The Prime Minister's decision to send troops to Mali is the product of an ill-defined nightmare of religious terrorism and "gesture" politics, writes Adrian Hamilton.

7. Our Armed Forces can’t survive on a diet of fudge, Mr Cameron (Daily Telegraph)

If the Prime Minister truly wants to confront the threat from Islamists in Africa, he must find the money to increase the defence budget, says Fraser Nelson.

8. Why can't we British make patriotic films like Spielberg's blockbuster? (Daily Mail)

The director's Lincoln is an unembarrassed hymn to the United States, writes Max Hastings.

9. Try to see economic opportunity in our current difficulties (Daily Telegraph)

Times are hard, but blood-curdling warnings about our financial predicament are wrong, argues Jeremy Warner.

10. We can count hard cash, but what is the value of beauty? (Guardian)

In planning, defenders of nature are 'nimbies', opponents 'vandals', writes Simon Jenkins. To end the shouting match we need a new language.

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Leader: Boris Johnson, a liar and a charlatan

The Foreign Secretary demeans a great office of state with his carelessness and posturing. 

Boris Johnson is a liar, a charlatan and a narcissist. In 1988, when he was a reporter at the Times, he fabricated a quotation from his godfather, an eminent historian, which duly appeared in a news story on the front page. He was sacked. (We might pause here to acknowledge the advantage to a young journalist of having a godfather whose opinions were deemed worthy of appearing in a national newspaper.) Three decades later, his character has not improved.

On 17 September, Mr Johnson wrote a lengthy, hyperbolic article for the Daily Telegraph laying out his “vision” for Brexit – in terms calculated to provoke and undermine the Prime Minister (who was scheduled to give a speech on Brexit in Florence, Italy, as we went to press). Extracts of his “article”, which reads more like a speech, appeared while a terror suspect was on the loose and the country’s threat level was at “critical”, leading the Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, to remark: “On the day of a terror attack where Britons were maimed, just hours after the threat level is raised, our only thoughts should be on service.”

Three other facets of this story are noteworthy. First, the article was published alongside other pieces echoing and praising its conclusions, indicating that the Telegraph is now operating as a subsidiary of the Johnson for PM campaign. Second, Theresa May did not respond by immediately sacking her disloyal Foreign Secretary – a measure of how much the botched election campaign has weakened her authority. Finally, it is remarkable that Mr Johnson’s article repeated the most egregious – and most effective – lie of the EU referendum campaign. “Once we have settled our accounts, we will take back control of roughly £350m per week,” the Foreign Secretary claimed. “It would be a fine thing, as many of us have pointed out, if a lot of that money went on the NHS.”

This was the promise of Brexit laid out by the official Vote Leave team: we send £350m to Brussels, and after leaving the EU, that money can be spent on public services. Yet the £350m figure includes the rebate secured by Margaret Thatcher – so just under a third of the sum never leaves the country. Also, any plausible deal will involve paying significant amounts to the EU budget in return for continued participation in science and security agreements. To continue to invoke this figure is shameless. That is not a partisan sentiment: the head of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir David Norgrove, denounced Mr Johnson’s “clear misuse of official statistics”.

In the days that followed, the chief strategist of Vote Leave, Dominic Cummings – who, as Simon Heffer writes in this week's New Statesman, is widely suspected of involvement in Mr Johnson’s article – added his voice. Brexit was a “shambles” so far, he claimed, because of the ineptitude of the civil service and the government’s decision to invoke Article 50 before outlining its own detailed demands.

There is a fine Yiddish word to describe this – chutzpah. Mr Johnson, like all the other senior members of Vote Leave in parliament, voted to trigger Article 50 in March. If he and his allies had concerns about this process, the time to speak up was then.

It has been clear for some time that Mr Johnson has no ideological attachment to Brexit. (During the referendum campaign, he wrote articles arguing both the Leave and Remain case, before deciding which one to publish – in the Telegraph, naturally.) However, every day brings fresh evidence that he and his allies are not interested in the tough, detailed negotiations required for such an epic undertaking. They will brush aside any concerns about our readiness for such a huge challenge by insisting that Brexit would be a success if only they were in charge of it.

This is unlikely. Constant reports emerge of how lightly Mr Johnson treats his current role. At a summit aiming to tackle the grotesque humanitarian crisis in Yemen, he is said to have astounded diplomats by joking: “With friends like these, who needs Yemenis?” The Foreign Secretary demeans a great office of state with his carelessness and posturing. By extension, he demeans our politics. 

This article first appeared in the 21 September 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The revenge of the left