Tuesday, September 21

Boris Johnson’s charm, like a trolley in a supermarket parking lot, has its limits | Brexit

CAnd has it really only been three years and three whole days since Michael Gove said about a Brexit deal: “The final whistle has sounded and the prime minister has won”? Either way, I see that the Brexit talks have moved to the suicide threat stage if your ex doesn’t do what you want. On Thursday night, Boris Johnson went on the air to warn that with the negotiations ending on Sunday, there is now a “great possibility” of a no-deal Brexit.

This constructive and responsible toy-launching mood was duly echoed on the covers today, with a personal favorite being the Daily Express. welcome holder: ALL WE HAVE WANTED WAS OUR FREEDOM. A phrase that is incredibly difficult not to imagine being mourned by a man in pants and carried away by police officers.

All we ever wanted was our freedom. And have access to the single market; and prosper mightily; and being able to eat a bunch of grapes while walking around Tesco and then get started when challenged at the checkout; and being able to use the weight room without paying for the gym membership; and have some time to myself; and explore an open relationship just for a moment, you know; and get a Regret Nothing tattoo; and try surfing and ayahuasca; and sleeping in the spare room with our new girlfriend because the apartments are expensive and we need one with a garage for the superbike; and have a child support vacation so we can go to Spain and join our heads; and dressing in a Spider-Man costume and going up to a women’s shelter and feeling understood; and get within 100 meters of you. All we ever wanted was our freedom.

Still, let’s warm our hands at the stake and remember how this came to be. On Wednesday, there was a lot of talk about Boris Johnson’s amateur acting career in Brussels, with some saying it had come down to his ability to charm the EU. Ah, the old Johnson charm. If I had to dwell on its defining characteristic, I’d rather “doesn’t travel well.” The prime minister is like one of those carts that stops working once you reach the perimeter of the supermarket parking lot. As soon as you pass the White Cliffs of Dover, Johnson no longer functions as a buy-one-get-one-free rave depository on Merrie England, and it becomes useless.

Certainly, even the official records of the visit to Brussels tend to be disturbing. I won’t hastily stop looking at the dazzling photo in which Johnson and his chief negotiator, David Frost, smile like a pair of competition winners alongside the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and his negotiator, Michel Barnier. Tied up in another boy’s suit, Johnson suddenly seemed to have the precise physique of Danny DeVito’s Penguin from Batman Returns. Although sadly not the brains.

The received wisdom seems to be that this is all theater, designed to show that the UK, which has quickly ceased to be a serious country, takes its threats seriously. If there is a flaw in this plan, and indeed it is such a small problem, it is that our prime minister is a liar of international reputation. Possibly even intergalactic. For Boris Johnson, lying is not second nature: it is nature. Even on the occasions when you want to tell the truth, a rarity, but imagine yourself momentarily aligning yourself with your own self-interest, you have to go to great lengths, almost physical, to nullify your psychiatric biology. It’s like watching a cat try to pull out a twenty-pound hairball.

For most of the time, the prime minister exists in a space far beyond the truth, a category of horror of his own. Hearing you make a statement is anticipating a catastrophically disorderly topical hemorrhage; the mere opening of your mouth should look like a prolapse of truth. (Come on, it wouldn’t be Christmas without a Boris Johnson body shock section.)

As for the arrangements to celebrate our historic final exit, final in three weeks, there has been no news of any commemorative “end of transition” coin. Maybe they learned their lesson last time. You will recall that a lot of special 50p pieces were minted for October 31, 2019, then sadly the UK missed that unmissable deadline. But all was not lost, according to the Sun, which assured readers that any incorrectly dated coin “could be worth £ 800.” Yes… One euro will be worth £ 800 at this rate. The unofficial Brexit catchphrase fits only slightly with Buzz Lightyear’s: “To parity and beyond!”

One of Johnson’s main justifications for not reaching an agreement appears to be that he has very strong cabinet backing. What? This cabinet? My God, in that case, do the opposite. If those missing links consider it a good idea, the only sensible course of action would be a 180-degree collapse in the last hour and an immediate push for full federalization and an EU military. The problem with Boris Johnson’s “top team” is that the only qualifications in which they were selected for jobs of enormous importance at this very important time are loyalty to Brexit and, to a large extent, being domesticated. I say in large part: the relevant box to check on the nursery admission form is the one that says “you can use the bathroom independently but sometimes you have accidents.”

I mean, honestly, call a picture of the current cabinet. Look at their faces. They are simply the smallest caliber things ever assembled around that table, including the chairs. There are button-backed mahogany seats in that room that have thought more deeply about the implications of disagreement than Priti Patel, and if the Home Secretary doesn’t like that assessment of her disabilities, she can come and throw one out. I.

And now that? Who knows. Only one thing is clear. If we do not reach an agreement, Boris Johnson will act not to save the country, but to save his face and his own career. It was always that way, of course, but the stakes were never higher.

• Marina Hyde is a columnist for The Guardian


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