“You’ve lost! Get over it! Move on!” Boris Johnson’s supporters taunt diehard critics like me.
I accept that he is an extraordinarily good campaigner. How could I not, having seen him defy the odds to win the 2016 EU referendum, the 2019 general election and, for the most part, last week’s local elections? But get behind him? No way!
My opposition to Johnson stems not from my politics. I’m not left wing. On the contrary, I’m the archetypal floating voter, and I’ve certainly voted Conservative on occasions in the past.
My opposition flows from having studied Johnson closely over two decades and having experienced, sometimes personally, the trail of destruction he has left behind him. He’s a con man – a brilliant one, but still a con man.
In the wake of Johnson’s tenure as the Daily Telegraph’s correspondent in Brussels in the 1990s, the Times posted me to that city. His baleful legacy was painfully apparent. The EU was certainly cumbersome, wasteful and bureaucratic, but he had transformed it into a grotesque caricature of Machiavellian Europeans scheming to destroy the British way of life. In Brussels his reporting was regarded as a joke, but Fleet Street loved it. All that most of our newspapers wanted was more of the same. And ministers played along, pledging before every trip to Brussels to fight defiant rearguard actions against the EU’s plots instead of proclaiming our very real power and influence in the world’s greatest experiment in multinational collaboration.
Fast forward to the 2016 referendum. Johnson, the ultimate opportunist, decided it would be politically advantageous to join the Leave camp. He then campaigned for Britain to quit his cartoon caricature, not the real EU. It was a travesty, aided by an incompetent Remain campaign, but it worked.
By some strange alchemy, in the face of abundant evidence to the contrary, Johnson has since managed to persuade roughly 40 per cent of the country – enough in this age of fragmented opposition – that Brexit is a Good Thing.
As the grandson of a Scot and graduate of Edinburgh University, I’m dismayed that the end of England’s 314-year-old Union with Scotland will be a probable consequence unless this so-called champion of national sovereignty can hold it together through coercion. Johnson never mentioned that in 2016.
As a Belfast correspondent in the late 1990s I reported on the tortuous peace process that led to the Good Friday Agreement, one of the great political accomplishments of our time. I’m appalled at how Johnson, who has no grasp of or interest in Northern Ireland’s complex dynamics, has now imperilled that province’s fragile peace by creating – despite repeatedly pledging not to – a de facto border in the Irish Sea in order to “get Brexit done”. He made no mention of that in 2016, either.
As a former lobby correspondent, I’m disgusted at how Johnson has debased British politics. To ram Brexit through parliament he set out to destroy trust in the very institution whose powers Brexit was supposed to restore, portraying it as the “enemy of the people” and seeking unlawfully to prorogue it. He has subsequently marginalised it, deceived it and evaded its legitimate scrutiny. He has neutered the cabinet by peopling it with subservient mediocrities. He has destroyed any sense of political honour, allowing ministers to remain in office despite their egregious failures and transgressions.
As a Londoner, I resent the way that Johnson demonises the city of which he was once mayor, setting the country against the capital, mocking its “metropolitan elite” and ignoring its interests. No matter that he has lived in London for almost all his adult life, or that he was its mayor for eight years, or that fully 28 per cent of its people live in poverty. This Prime Minister prospers by fomenting division.
I find it impossible to forgive him for ripping away my European citizenship for no obvious gain, and questioning my patriotism because I considered Britain’s best interests were served by continued EU membership. I deeply regret that my children and grandchildren can no longer easily live, work and study anywhere in Europe. It saddens me that my daughter is now seeking German citizenship to ensure that she and her family can continue living in Berlin.
During my years of studying Johnson I’ve noticed that the better people know him, the more deeply they distrust him. Ask Max Hastings, his editor at the Telegraph, or Sonia Purnell, his Telegraph deputy in Brussels, or numerous other journalists who have worked with him. Or David Cameron and Theresa May, his former party leaders. Or Alan Duncan, his Foreign Office deputy. Or his former Tory parliamentary colleagues such as Dominic Grieve. Or Dominic Cummings, his former chief strategist. Or Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator. Or, for that matter, his former wives.
The converse is also true. The less people know of the real Boris Johnson, the more they like and trust him. I hope I’m wrong, but I fear the good people of Hartlepool may eventually discover – as Northern Ireland’s Unionists just have – that his headline-grabbing promises are worthless.
For the foreseeable future I am resigned to Johnson’s premiership. With Labour immersed in yet more ruinous internal strife, the various opposition parties more fragmented than ever and a lamentably unrepresentative electoral system, it is hard to see him losing the next general election. But I hate what the Prime Minister has done to my country, and for as long as he practises tribal politics, for as long as he fosters division instead of reaching out to his opponents, I, and I suspect millions like me, will refuse to grant him our losers’ consent.