Today Our Future, Our Choice is delivering Prime Minister Boris Johnson a clear message on behalf of young people across the country. We see him. We see what he’s done. We see how he’s got there. We know what he is. And we fundamentally reject all of it.
Johnson ducked scrutiny throughout his campaign and failed to properly engage with young people. That’s not surprising given that 73 per cent of 18- 24-year-olds voted against his Brexit project. But it’s more than that. He has shown himself to be the exact opposite to the values of modern progressive young people.
For starters, his cabinet. I don’t use the phrase “clown car of evil and incompetence” lightly, but Esther McVey and Andrea Leadsom both opposed the compulsory inclusion of same-sex relationships in education. Gavin Williamson voted against gay marriage and yet somehow is the Education Secretary. Johnson’s Home Secretary, Priti Patel supported the death penalty in 2011. Dominic Raab’s reward for learning how much we rely on the Dover-Calais crossing was to be made Foreign Secretary. (Most people just get a gold star for learning basic geographic facts.)
Jacob Rees-Mogg, aside from his opposition to gay marriage and to abortion even in cases of rape, suggested we return to the Irish border arrangements of the Troubles, during which 3,600 people died. Theresa Villiers, the incumbent Environment Secretary, once said the border arrangements have been “broadly consistent for the last 100 years” as if the Belfast Agreement never happened. Oh, and she said this while she was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Not to mention Boris Johnson’s own reckless attitude to no deal and getting rid of the Backstop designed to protect the Belfast Agreement is historically immoral.
He called black people “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles” and said Barack Obama harboured a “part-Kenyan’s ancestral dislike of the British empire”. He called gay people “tank-topped bumboys”. He said women who wear burkas look like letter boxes or bank robbers. Now, is he just a bumbling fool who doesn’t know any better? Is he just accidentally politically incorrect? No. The man is a walking thesaurus. Back in his mayoral days he called the London assembly “supine invertebrate jellies”. He intentionally chooses offensive language because he knows it gets him in the news and he knows that bigoted people love hearing politicians disrespect minority groups.
Now we all make jokes in private, but put yourself in the shoes of any minority group. If you know your Prime Minister thinks it’s OK to go out of his way to offend you, not only does that mean that others are more likely to disrespect you, but as the ultimate representative of the country, it makes you feel unwelcome in your own home. He may not even be the racist bigot he portrays himself as and that’s actually worse. He may simply be using it as a political tool to gain power.
Take his position on Brexit. In 2013 he said “I’d vote to stay in the single market. I’m in favour of the single market”. More recently he’s tried to shift the blame for a no-deal Brexit onto the EU. That’s a man who knows that Brexit will make our country poorer, but saw an opportunity to use it to ride a wave of nationalism into number 10 Downing Street. And it worked. He reassured people in 2016 that we wouldn’t be made poorer by Brexit because we’d “do a new deal that will be good for Britain and good for Europe too”.
He even wrote in an article two days after the Brexit vote that we’d have access to the single market. That means even he didn’t vote for the no-deal Brexit he’s currently trying to inflict on our generation. Oddly enough, I don’t remember Johnson’s bus saying “We’re currently part of the largest single market in the world. Let’s become the only economy in the world that doesn’t have any trade deals with its neighbours instead”. He knows the harm that would do to the most vulnerable in society, but hey, if you want to be prime minister, sometimes the little people need to suffer.
In 2017, 54 per cent of voters chose parties whose manifestos explicitly ruled out no-deal (Labour’s commitment to Brexit was conditioned on single market access). So for a Prime Minister, whom nobody even contemplated in 2017, to now drag us out of the EU without a deal, against the wishes of the majority of voters, would be historically and laughably undemocratic. Johnson has no right to even attempt it.
Now, if he thinks he can negotiate a better deal, then he should let the people decide if they prefer Johnson’s handiwork to simply stopping this three-year car crash so we can start addressing the real problems affecting people’s lives across the country.
Femi Oluwole is co-founder of Our Future, Our Choice.