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EU Referendum: beyond stupidity

2016-03-23 19:54:57

Those Boris Johnson apologists who have been calling for us to get behind this man and stop criticising him really need to watch his train-wreck session in front of the Treasury select committee today. 

Whenever attempts were made to pin down the man, he retreated into waffle and bluster while pouring out a torrent of delusional aspirations with not the slightest attempt to offer any evidence. He even resorted to shouting down his questioners in a most extraordinary display of bullying.

Snippets are recorded on the Guardian website where we see in all its glory the insanity of his pronouncements. Central to his pitch was his claim that: "It would not be hard to do a free trade deal with the EU 'very rapidly indeed'". There need not be any uncertainty, said Mr Johnson. Concern over the problems of leaving was analogous to scaremongering over the Y2K bug. The sheer negativity about trading deals, he claimed, is because we've "become infantilised".

As recorded by the Guardian, the UK, he said, "would not have to invoke article 50, the one that initiates the two-year withdrawal negotiation process, immediately after a referendum".

When asked whether he wants access to the Single Market, Mr Johnson stated that the Single Market was a term that was widely misunderstood. We should "get out from under that system" where all laws were justiciable by the ECJ. My view, he said was that we should have free trade with European partners based very largely on existing arrangements. This was: "A free trade arrangement that continued to give access to UK goods and services to the European continent" without, of course, freedom of movement.

This is the classic delusional stance embraced by Vote Leave, with Johnson suggesting that "he would not want UK to remain as part of the EU single market" while still expecting to have full access. As before, he denied that he wanted a "Canadian deal" and said instead he wanted "a British deal".

However, Johnson was forced to admit that there is no precedent for EU striking a free trade deal in less than two years. Press on this, he was unable to name any country that had struck a trade deal with the EU in less than two years. Yet, according to Mr Johnson, this was "one of the defects of the EU", then attacking MP Rachel Reeves for "absolute scaremongering" and talking "total nonsense". This blustering approach was his standard approach  to anyone who challenged him.

The questioning hit at the two most pernicious myths perpetrated by the "leaver" caucus, the first that we can agree a free trade deal within the two years initially set by Article 50, the second that we can have free trade access without also conceding free movement of persons.

Both those myths were endorsed by Johnson, and many of his supporters hold similar views. But in The Times today, which was referred to in the Committee hearing, we saw Pierre Pettigrew - former Canadian trade minister state unequivocally that a Canadian-style deal could not be achieved in that timescale. He was talking in terms of a decade to settle our international trading arrangements.

What came over from the session, therefore, was that, unless the "leave" campaign can get used to the idea that we will not be abler to secure a straight free trade agreement within two years, and that no full access will be conceded without free movement of persons, the campaign will not progress. The Committee called "time" on the the leaver delusions. 

In my view, we really must resolve this. As long as the likes of Boris Johnson are given free range to peddle his nonsense, and he gets the support of Vote Leave and other campaigns, we are going to lose this referendum. Our credibility is gurgling down the plug hole as this pitch becomes a laughing stock. There is no time to waste on this. We have already wasted too much time and effort, and we cannot afford this suicidal course that Johnson and his supporters have chosen. 

However, what this session showed was that Johnson is not close to conceding a need to compromise. He retains the delusional view that a deal can be secured in "very short time", simply on the wholly unsubstantiated assumption that the EU will do a deal because they need our trade. At one point, he even quipped that he'd "demolished" all of the questions asked.

But every time he was seriously challenged, we saw graphic examples of the man's style. For instance, earlier in the session. Mr Johnson attempted to defend his claims about "ludicrous" EU laws, some made in his column of 22 February.

One of his more egregious claims was that the EU prohibits children under eight from inflating balloons. This is actually a serious subject, of international concern, but not for Mr Johnson. He asserts that the EU has promulgated a law prohibiting children from blowing up balloons.

In fact, EU requirements are restricted to requiring warning labels on packs of balloons, cautioning that children under eight should be supervised. But the exchange amply illustrated how Johnson relies on bullying his opposition. When he was shown to be wrong, he upped the speed of his waffle and attempted to bury the rebuttal in a torrent of sneering prose.

Despite that, Johnson was also taken apart on his claim about recycling tea bags and also about EU legislation setting out dimensions of what he called a "Euro coffin". He was confronted with the charge that there was no EU legislation on coffins, with controls in fact stemming from the International Convention on the Transport of Corpses. Yet, when this was presented to him, Johnson simply denied he was wrong.

A great deal of time was spent on a discussion on the safe dimensions of truck cabs, to reduce risks to cyclists. Johnson claimed that the provision for high visibility cabs was "blocked by Brussels". Neither the Committee, nor Mr Johnson, however, were able to overcome their innate ignorance failing completely to understand or recognise the role of UNECE.

Both Committee and Johnson also made a total hash of their discussions on the amount of EU law affecting, not even beginning to get to grips with the subject.

Nevertheless, after more turgid blustering by Johnson, that had him show that he was completely out of his depth on farming, the Guardian stated that had been "a dismal morning for Johnson". Overall, it said, "he has not been an effective witnesses and MPs from all parties have either shredded his claims, or ridiculed what he has had to say". If Vote Leave are looking for a spokesman with heavyweight intellectual credibility, it added, "Johnson has ruled himself out as their candidate".

Quick off the mark, the Mail tried an element of damage limitation, but could not avoid conveying the tenor of Mr Johnson's contribution as "bombastic" and "devoid of any facts". Typically, though, the Telegraph looked after its boy. Describing "entertaining scenes" in which Johnson "defends himself after MPs question some of his more colourful claims about the European Union", Michael Deacon wrote of: "A fount of boyish enthusiasm, cloudless optimism and chaotic garrulity, forever relying on jokes and charm to bail him out of embarrassment".

Not even this, though, can conceal the fact that this is not a man who can credibly represent the "leave" campaign. He actually represents everything to do with old-style euroscepticism that we detest. His presentation was BS writ large, totally bereft of detail, building castles on sand on the basis of delusional wishful thinking. Johnson has dragged the argument back decades, ignoring entirely the thinking and debate that has being going on over the last few years, in a insulting display of ignorance.

There is absolutely no way on God's earth that we can have anything to do with this charlatan. The best and only favour he can do is to shut up and go away, keeping well clear of a subject about which he clearly knows very little indeed.

That anyone could think that he is on our "side" is delusional. Like Johnson himself, they are beyond stupidity. We need to finish this. Mr Johnson is not wanted on passage. We simply cannot afford this man continually sabotaging our campaign.