|Party is over Britain: you are on your own|
Like the good intellectual that he’s vigorously pretended not to be of late, Boris Johnson will probably know that line. It’s from the Greek historian Plutarch’s account of the battle that gave us the phrase “pyrrhic victory”, the kind of victory won at such cost that you almost wish you’d lost.
In theory, Johnson woke up on Friday morning having won the war. After David Cameron’s announcement that he would step down come October, Johnson is now the heir presumptive – albeit at this stage very presumptive – to the Tory leadership, perhaps only four months away from running the country.
He has everything he ever wanted. It’s just that somehow, as he fought his way through booing crowds on his Islington doorstep before holding an uncharacteristically subdued press conference on Friday morning, it didn’t really look that way.
One group of Tory remainers watching the speech on TV jeered out loud when a rather pale Johnson said leaving Europe needn’t mean pulling up the drawbridge; that this epic victory for Nigel Farage could somehow “take the wind out of the sails” of anyone playing politics with immigration. Too late for all that now, one said.
he scariest possibility, however, is that he actually meant it. That like most of Westminster, Johnson always imagined we’d grudgingly vote to stay in the end. That he too missed the anger bubbling beneath the surface, and is now as shocked as anyone else by what has happened.
“People talk about reluctant remainers, but I think there have been a lot of reluctant Brexiters around, people who voted leave thinking it wouldn’t happen but they’d be able to vent and to tell all their friends at dinner parties they’d done it,” said one Tory minister.
“He thought what all those reluctant Brexiters thought: it would be a vote for remain, he would be seen as having stood up for a principle.” After which leave’s newest martyr could simply have bided his time for a year or so before being triumphantly installed in Downing Street.
It’s perfectly possible, of course, that the Tories on both sides who suspect Johnson was never an outer in his bones are plain wrong, that the anonymous Labour MP who hotly accused him on Friday of jeopardising thousands of ordinary people’s jobs just to secure one for himself was doing him a terrible injustice.
Perhaps Johnson really did have a last-minute epiphany, declaring for leave in the sober realisation that this was always how it might end – Scotland demanding independence, Northern Ireland’s fragile political settlement at risk, Marine Le Pen jubilant, the Bank of England stumping up £250bn to stabilise the market. Perhaps he’s still convinced all will be fine eventually.
And let’s hope to God he’s right. Any remainer who doesn’t pray to be proved wrong about Brexit is callous, wishing disaster on people who are unable to afford it. But right now, what scorched earth Johnson stands to inherit – a nation febrile and divided, teetering on the brink of economic and constitutional crisis. It’s all over for David Cameron now. But it feels, too, like the end of a broader modernising movement to which both he and Johnson belonged.
Johnson is far from a buffoon. He’s an agile thinker, gifted communicator and natural opportunist who made a reasonable fist of governing London after recruiting some reliable deputies (enter Michael Gove). He’s smart enough to have learned from the recent Labour leadership campaign – in which managerially competent candidates were slaughtered for being on the wrong side of a visceral grassroots argument – that elites only survive in this febrile climate by pleasing the masses. Perhaps somehow it will all come together.
It’s just that on Friday morning Johnson didn’t look like a man with a plan that’s all working perfectly. He looked more like a king unable to take more such victories.
Note EU-Digest: Following Brexit the EU must make sure not to sign any agreement with Britain which gives them preferential treatment.on Trade,Visa,Tax excemptions and immediately treat their Government and Citizens exactly as they would any other non EU country.
In doing so it will also send a clear message not only to Britain but also to other EU nations that if you are a member of the EU you can't have your cake and eat it also.
Read more: A pyrrhic victory? Boris Johnson wakes up to the costs of Brexit | Politics | The Guardian