What can we learn from Boris Johnson’s first week as Prime Minister? Fiona Ferguson takes a look.
Boris Johnson never was one for modesty. As a boy, he declared his life ambition to become no less than world king. Time yet, of course, for the pampered Etonian to realise these dreams. But for now the future ruler of the planet must make do with the less loftier title of Prime Minister—that is unless the young Boris made the mistake of presuming that he who runs Britain is by divine right the king of the world. Not that he would be the first PM to think as much.
No Deal Brexit
Johnson’s first week in office suggests that this braggadocious posture will continue, as he tours Britain promising to deliver Brexit by any means necessary; declaring his intention to leave the EU by the October 31st, deal or no deal. His newly appointed Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Dominic Raab said that Johnson won’t reopen Brexit talks with the EU until it agrees to ‘drop the backstop’—a suggestion shot down by Brussels. Indeed Raab could not confirm whether Johnson has any plans at all to visit EU capitals to engage in talks or pleasantries, giving the appearance that the new PM is no longer interested in negotiation.
Johnson had Michael Gove announce that preparations for a no-deal Brexit are already underway, and the new Chancellor Sajid Javid is expected to announce £1 billion to aid Gove’s planning, and a further £100 million to be spent on advertising alone in the next three months, according to government sources. This prompted an outraged response. Not that Johnson should have expected any less, when the amount pledged to a glorified ad campaign would go some way to plugging gaps in the NHS or pay the wages of badly needed nurses.
No doubt the tiny minority afforded the opportunity to select the new PM in the Conservative party find this Brexit bravado reassuring. But like all Tories, Johnson is a slippery character, carefully adding in statements that the UK would ‘ideally’ leave the EU with a deal. As such, we cannot completely rule out that Johnson does a u-turn at some point in the future. But for now, all roads appear to point towards a no-deal scenario. With Dominic Raab stating that ‘getting a good trade deal from EU could be ‘much easier’ after no deal Brexit’, which flies in the face of multiple reports and warnings released in the short time since Johnson’s ascension to number 10.
You do not have to fawn over the institutions of the EU, to know that a no-deal Brexit is bad news, particularly here in Ireland. Despite the outright rejection by many in the North at the idea of a no-deal Brexit, and the implementation of any hardened border which might accompany it, Johnson has unsurprisingly done little to assuage fears. Until yesterday he hadn’t bothered to speak to Leo Varadkar, the man expected to follow EU directive if they order a hard border and who’s rumoured veto could be crucial to any deal Johnson manages to strike.
Furthermore, he appointed Julian Smith to Secretary of State for the North, prompting cynicism from all sides as to his ‘impartiality’, or his ability to make any progress on either a Stormont deal or solution for the North in a no-deal Brexit. This is the man, after all, who failed three times to get Theresa May’s deal through parliament. He was met with protest from Irish language, equal marriage and abortion rights campaigners on his arrival, challenges from PBP Cllr Shaun Harkin as to his despicable voting record, and has already had to release a statement to say he will work ‘equally’ with all parties. Of course, no Tory Secretary of State for the North can be impartial while the DUP supply and confidence.
Raab and others yesterday refused to rule out direct rule in the event of the no-deal he’s been championing, signalling his intention to plough on ahead without even the semblance of input from anyone in the North, save for his buddies in the DUP. Johnson’s first week has been filled with rhetoric about strengthening and protecting the Union, but it’s hard to see how comments like these won’t instead lead to a flurry of renewed support and debate around the viability of the Northern state, never mind in Scotland, especially in the event of a Hard Brexit.
Seeking not to prevent hardened borders, but to firming them instead, Priti Patel, Johnson’s new Home Secretary, vowed to seize the “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity offered by Brexit to crack down on immigration, and promised to look into Australia’s ‘tough’ points system. According to Patel, the ability to limit entry to the UK to only the best and the brightest is possible under a no-deal Brexit, which would leave the Government ‘free from the shackles of the EU – and [the] automatic right of entry for their citizens’. She revelled, Trump-esque, in the potentiality of the ‘end of free movement’, and has committed to ensuring ‘a strong border to help keep out terrorists and criminals’. Those aware of Patel’s voting record on migrant and asylum seeker rights will not be surprised by her comments, but the gut wrenching reality of her words, given her newfound power, is no less present.
In what may have appeared to be a contradictory stance, Johnson refused to rule out, when pressed by Labour MP Rupa Huq on his first day, the implementation of an old policy from his mayoral days, which sought to give an amnesty to up to half a million ‘illegal’ migrants who had been in the UK for some time. But his support for Patel and her nasty anti-migrant policies should quell hopes that Boris might implement such a policy, which was hugely popular when his self-carved persona was the lovable pro-cycling, pro-Europe rogue in London’s City Hall.
That persona was left firmly behind in 2010. Johnson’s current visage is reflected in his new cabinet, including; Dominic Raab—who once said that feminists are some of the most obnoxious bigots and that men are getting a raw deal; former investment banker Sajid Javid; enemy of public schools Michael Gove; and death penalty advocate Patel. Small wonder, then, that former Tory MP Nick Boles suggested ‘the hard right of the party has fully taking over’.
The cabinet was, don’t fall off your seat, initially hailed by Tory members and Johnson fans as being ‘modern’ (read: they’re not ALL white men, and there’s even quite a few women!). But as commentators like Ash Sakar were quick to point out—selecting women like Priti Patel does not necessarily mean that the policies of the cabinet will be in any way beneficial to migrant women. As her voting record shows, it’s likely that the opposite will be true. And of course, we should expect nothing less when the man leading the cabinet is world renowned for disgustingly racist remarks.
Hoping for a good news story, Johnson’s team announced a £300 million boost for the devolved regions in the form of city growth deals. Landing in Scotland to begin his tour, he said “it is vital we renew the ties that bind our United Kingdom” and that the growth deals would “open up those opportunities”. What he failed to mention is that the city growth deals have been in the works for some time, long before his premiership, and that the money was already in place.
Regardless of his intentions, it was certainly not a good news day for Boris. He was met with a crowd outside the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s residence, whose jeers and booing did not let up while the two posed for photos, in what was later described as a ‘lively’ discussion. The protesters forced Johnson to leave quietly through the backdoor of the building, rather than face them, leading to the twitter trend #BackdoorBoris.
Protest has met Boris at every stage since he was selected for number 10. On the day he took over as leader of the Tories, crowds gathered near Downing Street. By the next day, tens of thousands gathered across London to show their outrage at the selection of a man who represents so much of what is wrong with the top of British society. #FUCKBORIS protests were organised in Liverpool and smaller demos took place across England. Social media videos show confrontations and pickets at press events, never seeming to cut it when the coverage airs. Today he was met on the steps of Stormont by protesting voices from the Irish language community, shipyard workers currently occupying their site, calling for their jobs to be saved.
Corbyn’s response has been to call for a challenge at the ballot box to undo the undemocratic instalment of a Prime Minister by less than 1% of the population—to let the public finally have their say on a no-deal Brexit and the Tory governments which have overseen the implementation of welfare reform, the degradation of the environment and greater privatisation to name a few.
A general election may well cull Johnson’s premiership before its natural end, and the call should be supported. But we must also make clear that London does not have the right to impose its vision of Brexit on people in Ireland, regardless of who is in power.
There is hope in the coming together of activists standing side by side, loudly rejecting this racist and irrational populist who will do whatever he can for political gratification. Much like his ally in the white house, Johnson’s hateful and entitled brand of politics can unite all those it threatens. And it will be in that vein that his leadership will come under threat.
We need to see mass demonstrations to bring the Tory Governmenrt down, and we must insist that Johnson has no right to impose his will on people, including here in Ireland. There is a crucial role to be played by the unions in building these demonstrations and moreover there is an urgency in organising. We’ve seen the impact of an elitist racist in the highest office in the States. The race is on to beat back Boris before his policies punish those who have been punished enough by the Tories.