Richard North, 28/09/2018  

Just when you think the Telegraph as a newspaper can't sink any lower … it does. Today's edition parades on its front page a mad contribution from the oaf Johnson entitled My plan for a better Brexit.

The online copy of what would be better called "Plan Oaf for oblivion" runs to 4,600 words, lodged firmly behind the paywall. But the section setting out the actual plan is less than a thousand words, positioned away from the prying eyes of non-subscribers. However, it is enough – if any UK government was stupid enough to try it out – to ensure that we would leave the EU without a deal. Perhaps that is Mr Johnson's intention.

In what amounts to a six-point plan, under the heading: "Here is what we should do", Johnson's first idea is dispensed with in a mere two lines. "First, chuck Chequers, and stop wasting time on a solution that can never be in the long term interests of this country" he says.

With that much we can agree. But that is all. In the next paragraph, he kills any possibility of us reaching a deal with the EU, by saying we should tell "our EU friends" that the Irish "backstop" arrangement is no longer operative and no longer acceptable to this country.

Instead, he argues that we should negotiate a different Withdrawal Agreement, "stating that the Irish border question will be settled as part of the deal on the future economic arrangements, and that both sides are committed to avoiding a hard border".

Completely lacking anything even approaching self-awareness, he then adds: "I recognise that this would be a difficult step". He fails entirely to acknowledge that this approach has already been roundly rejected by the EU, which is refusing to budge on the principle of a separate "backstop".

Technically, therefore anything of Johnson beyond this point is not worth considering. Even if he was given a free hand to negotiate, the talks would grind to a halt on this point – where they have been ever since December last.

For the record, though, we should note that Johnson, for his third point, wants us to agree a political declaration by early 2019, in parallel with the Withdrawal Agreement, "which sets out the intention of both sides to use the implementation period to negotiate and bring into force a SuperCanada-type free trade agreement".

Since it is never going to happen, the details do not need to trouble us. It is sufficient to move to Johnson's next point.

There, he wants us to "follow the logic of our own negotiating position" and launch what we should have begun two years ago – practical preparations to operate our own trade and immigration policy and to leave the customs union. That, he says, "will mean investing in the requisite technology, people and infrastructure".

Next, for his penultimate point, he tells us that we should face the possibility that we will not be able to conclude a Withdrawal Agreement and political declaration on this basis in the next few months, or to agree the new SuperCanada FTA by 2020.

It says something of this fool that he believes this to be a "remote" possibility. Nevertheless, he asserts that we need to accelerate the work now belatedly being done across government to prepare for a breakdown in the talks.

But, he says, "rather than peddling endless propaganda about the chaos of 'no deal', the government should learn from the failure of Project Fear. People do not on the whole like to be panicked by their governments".

According to Johnson, what people want are "practical ways [of] sorting out what are – after all – basically banal questions of bureaucratic procedure about which most people have been in ignorance until they were turned into seemingly insuperable and existential challenges to the safety of the nation".

In this stupid man's opinion, Britain seems to trade very smoothly and effectively with countries not in the EU, and we used to trade smoothly with France and Germany before we joined the EU. Therefore, he asserts, "we can easily do so now".

For facile, entry-level stupidity this would be hard to beat anywhere. But one must recall that this is part of a front-page story in a major national newspaper. There can be few better illustrations of the depths to which public discourse has sunk.

But that brings us to Johnson's final point. The oaf wants us to demonstrate that we are "not just psychologically reconciled but indeed energised by the prospect of leaving". There could be no more vivid symbol of the ambition of Global Britain, he says, than to begin negotiations on Free Trade Agreements as soon as possible after March next year.

"It is critical", he adds, "that those negotiations are ready to start with a bang in April, and that the UK's representative at the WTO moves immediately to assert an independent policy for Britain".

If nothing else, that further affirms the lack of self-awareness – like the EU and all the countries in the world are going to drop everything and line up to negotiate FTAs with us, just at our beckoning. The man really is a fool.

As much fools as he is are the proportion of the 700 or so commenters on the Telegraph website who came out in favour of him. This is a timely reminder that we not only have the politicians to blame for our predicament. There are those who support them.

But that is not to say that, even on the hallowed ground of the Telegraph, there is unalloyed enthusiasm for the man. "The guy is a self-absorbed, opportunistic charlatan. Learn from the mistake his wife made", writes "Nautilus Shell", while Michael McVeigh wrote: "Plan A+ was the biggest load of ill-thought-out tosh I have read in this sorry process, until this sorry article.

Picked up by this particular commenter is Johnson's view of the “banal questions of bureaucratic procedure about which most people have been ignorant". This is how the oaf sees the EU's border controls, which is one of the reasons why he can never be treated as a serious politician.

Anyone who can dismiss the sum total of the best part of forty years of accumulated controls really isn't someone of whom it is safe to take a great deal of notice.

Despite that, there is no accounting for the Telegraph. In its editorial, it tells us that, "with Brexit just six months away, Boris Johnson's Plan B is welcome".

"We need a Plan B and Mr Johnson is offering one", says the paper, adding: "Not only Mrs May but the Cabinet as well need to consider that, with time running out, accelerating towards the cliff edge is no longer a realistic option".

Nothing is capable of penetrating the stupidity of these people, who would condemn us to a "no deal" Brexit and years of economic decline, based on notions so facile that it is really hard to understand how they could be given an airing.

As long as we have media, though, that is quite incapable of crafting sensible options for Brexit, we will find it hard to make any progress at all. Combine that with venal politicians and a prime minister who is clearly not up to the job, and we have the makings of a perfect storm.

At least, though, Johnson is unlikely to get an easy ride. One could even warm to a Liberal Democrat MP, in the form of Layla Moran, who says Johnson's Brexit plan is "a half baked, sloppy rant" and "more of a joke than his stint as foreign secretary".

For Mrs May, this is the benchmark, the thing she has to beat in the coming Tory conference. Whether unwittingly or not, Johnson has done her a favour. Although he may be wowed by the fringe grounds, he has nailed his colours to the mast of something so indefatigably facile that even she should have no great difficulty demolishing it.

There lies the greatest failure of this ghastly man. Acting as the political equivalent of a bed-blocker, he has been instrumental in blocking rational Brexit plans yet is incapable of coming up with anything sensible himself. This man represents an opportunity cost, the size of which we can ill-afford.

But there is more. The very fact that so many people are prepared to listen to this malign fool says something about us as a nation. And if no one should take him seriously as a politician, how can we expect anyone to take seriously a nation that supports him?

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