Richard North, 03/10/2018  

It surely cannot be the case that none of the thousand-plus people who listened to the oaf yesterday were thinking. But surely none of those who so readily applauded can possibly have understood the implications of what they were being told.

The crucial paragraph came towards the end, when he told the throng that now was "the time truly to take back control and make the elegant dignified and grateful exit the country voted for". That got him a round of applause, but nothing to compare with what came next.

"This is the moment", Johnson said, "to chuck Chequers…". That got him prolonged applause, as one might expect. But then he continued with: wanting "to scrap the Commission's constitutionally abominable Northern Ireland backstop". That got him more applause.

He would then, he told his admirers, "use the otherwise redundant and miserable 'implementation period' to the end of 2020 to negotiate the Supercanada FTA". That got him still more applause, whence he added that we would also "invest in all the customs procedures that may be needed to ensure continued frictionless trade, and to prepare much more vigorously for coming out on WTO terms".

Yet, anyone schooled in the terms insisted upon by the EU would have known instantly that without a "backstop", there would be no withdrawal agreement and no "implementation period" – otherwise known as the transitional period – ending in December 2020.

On that basis, there would be no continued negotiations – no "Supercanada". We would drop out of the EU on 29 March 2019 without a deal, working solely within the framework of WTO rules.

And there Johnson was not only misleading his audience but also confusing himself. If we were supposed to be negotiating with the EU on this free trade deal, there would certainly be a need to invest in customs procedures, but there could hardly be any need to prepare for coming out on WTO terms. An FTA and the WTO option are mutually exclusive.

Homing in on the crux of what Mr Johnson was telling us, therefore – his message was – whether intended or not – that we should opt for a "no deal" Brexit. That was the necessary consequence of scrapping the "backstop", taking effect on 29 March.

But, if the enthusiastic mob could be forgiven for failing, in the heat of the moment, to detect the confusion inherent in the oaf's speech, there is less of an excuse for the media charged with reporting the event to the rest of humanity. Yet, even in this relatively simple task, the fourth estate fails once again.

The Times, for instance, didn't mention Mr Johnson's alternative at all. The "backstop" didn't feature. There was no reference to the transition period (however named) and Canada was noticeable by its absence from the newspaper's report.

Oddly enough, though, another of Johnson's suggestions was allowed through, his claim that "the prime minister risked being prosecuted under a 14th-century law saying that 'no foreign court or government shall have jurisdiction in this country'".

This is the statute of praemunire, named by Johnson but not the paper, introduced by Richard II in 1393, primarily directed at papal courts which might challenge the authority of the Crown. But the oaf might have been more convincing if he had also noted that the statute had been repealed by the Criminal Law Act 1967 – before we joined the EEC and in preparation for our entry.

On the day, of course, the claim attracted "loud applause", affirming what one of our own commenters observed yesterday, quoting Flaccus Albinus Alcuin – that "the riotousness of the crowd is always very close to madness".

But, if the newspaper of record failed, the oaf's favourite journal and generous employer was hardly any better. Although the Telegraph's rendition of the speech had him call for the so-called Irish backstop to be scrapped, it made no reference to his subsequent negotiations.

Instead, it reporting him saying that the Government should "use the Brexit implementation period to drawn up designs for a 'SuperCanada' trade deal and technological solutions that will guarantee 'frictionless trade" with Europe". There was no mention of the WTO.

When it comes to the Guardian, this paper tells us that: "Boris Johnson doesn't hold back as he skewers PM's Brexit plan". But, on the issue of scrapping the "backstop" which will lead us to a "no deal" exit, the paper emulated The Times in its silence.

Even John Crace lets us down. Starting well enough, he tells us that the oaf "delivers a second-rate speech better than most other second-rate politicians", and then adds that: "Boris is essentially still second rate. A man who imagines himself to be a latter day Winston Churchill, but is nothing more than an ersatz Donald Trump with little to offer other than his own narcissism masquerading as cheap populism".

But, when it comes to the detail, Crace goes AWOL. The speech is "bumble bumble". The fact that Johnson would have us wrenched from the EU with only the WTO rules to sustain us passes without comment.

Johnson's main pitch, according to the Independent is the "total fantasy" of the idea that it would be possible to "bodge" Brexit now and then negotiate a better deal after leaving in March 2019. And Mrs May's blueprint would be "politically humiliating for a £2 trillion economy" and would prevent the UK from making its own laws and subject it to the directives of Brussels.

Nothing is said, though, of the inadequacies of Johnson's plan. It will come as little surprise, however, that the BBC also failed to pick up the "backstop" point, despite the former announcing that Johnson "slams Brexit plan as he sets out his Tory vision". At least it had that in common with the other broadcaster, Sky News, both as bad as each other.

As for the Mail, its lurid account tells of Johnson throwing "another hand grenade into the mouting (sic) Tory civil war today as he launched an excoriating attack on Theresa May's Brexit plan".

We are then allowed to know that "supporters of Mrs May claimed Mr Johnson had again failed to offer any realistic alternative", but we were not troubled by any detail of why it was not "realistic". Later in its report, the paper quotes the entire section of the speech on the "backstop", without any analysis.

But, by way of comment, we get former Tory leader Iain Duncan-Smith – who was sat in the front row watching Mr Johnson. He "heaped praise on the speech and warned Mrs May the Tory party ousts leaders who do not listen to its members". He then goes on to say: "'We need to tell [the EU] now – if you want free trade, you have got to break the backstop nonsense, otherwise we are going to WTO".

Perhaps the oddest report of all, though, came from the English-language version of DW online, which headlined: "Boris Johnson attacks Theresa May's 'humiliating' Chequers plan".

Johnson, it said, "went on to call for a completely clean break between London and Brussels. According to Johnson, that would mean leaving the bloc without a transition period until 2020, without the proposed Northern Ireland backstop agreement and on the basis of a free trade agreement akin to that the EU currently has with Canada".

This version would have us leaving the EU in March 2019 having concluded a Canada-style FTA – something not even Johnson is actually proposing. Maybe the DW writer simply could not make any sense of the oaf's actual proposal.

And there lies the rub. Johnson once again is given a free pass to take a pop at Mrs May and her Brexit plans. That is fair enough, but what is not acceptable is the failure to point out that the alternative on offer is wholly unrealistic. It is all very well for Johnson to "chuck Chequers", but when he would have the UK economy wrecked, something should be made of that as well.

Thus, while much opprobrium rests on the shoulders of Johnson, his partners in crime are the media. He is their creation, a man who so lacks credibility that the only way he can stand up in public without attracting gales of derision is because the media fails to do its job.

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