Michael Gove behaves as though Tory promise-dodging is a lark - Lesley Riddoch

If you need some Brexit brass neck, send for Michael Gove.
Michael GoveMichael Gove
Michael Gove

Incredulity was stretched to breaking-point on yesterday’s Andrew Marr Show as the Brexit campaigner and senior cabinet member tried to present £705 million spending on border security as good news, even though he’d previously promised enhanced security was something post-Brexit Britain would not need.

Ditto the 27-acre site in Kent just purchased by British ministers to create a “customs centre” for up to 10,000 lorries.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Remember predictions of tailbacks 29 miles long from Channel ports, if checks took just two minutes longer than necessary?

Well, that scary no-deal scenario is back, but according to Mr Gove the prospect of huge queues at the Channel ports is not. The site will be a fallback, not a massive lorry park, he insists, because his government will install “smart infrastructure to let trade flow”.

Ah, right. Like the “smart Covid app” that had to be dumped? Like the “smart” systems that couldn’t keep stockpiled PPE in date let along deliver it? Like the “smart” Covid Pillar Two data finally delivered to Leicester but not disaggregated by ethnicity and workplace as health experts require?

“Smart”? There’s no salient aspect of British Government policy that currently justifies the description.

Or “transparency” – another overused word which has become an under-delivered public good under Boris Johnson. Will there be transparency about who wins these massive border security and lorry-park building contracts? On current form it’ll be companies without any experience of security or transport, whose owners are pals of Dominic Cummings. Like two of his “long-term associates” who won part of a £840,000 Cabinet Office contract last week, which, of course, had not been put out to tender. Maybe Mr Johnson figures the Covid-battered public won’t notice. Maybe he’s right. But I’ll bet no one will ever forgive the ferry contract awarded to Seaborne Freight 18 months ago without a proper tendering process or Seaborne actually owning any ferries.

Nor can we forget, because Chris Grayling – the minister responsible for wasting £56m of taxpayers’ money – looks set to become chair of the Commons intelligence and security committee. Yip, Failing Grayling’s back, charged with delivering a long-delayed report into allegations of Russian interference. Why would the PM risk the most inappropriate posting since Caligula considered making his horse a consul – as the New Statesman’s Kevin Maguire put it? Because Mr Grayling is pro-Brexit and re-heating past mistakes and hiding them in plain sight is the only “strategy” the Tories appear capable of delivering.

Mr Johnson is clearly counting on the Brexit weariness of most voters and the 80-seat majority they gave him in December. But there’s a snag – that was then.

We are not the same people any more. Even the Tory-leaning, Brexit-supporting English electorate is not the same electorate. Witnessing the personal horrors of the Covid crisis and the serial blunders and cavalier cover-ups of the British Government has changed everyone. So the hollow promises and botched Brexit planning that raised eyebrows six months ago could yet raise the roof second time around.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Nothing Mr Johnson says or does is taken on trust any more. No aspect of the British Government’s technology, consultation or management has emerged from Covid with flying colours. If cronyism, inefficiency, downright lies and carelessness couldn’t be ditched to save lives, who believes more care will be taken over the relatively technical business of quitting the EU? And yet the Tories clearly believe they can rehash old promises without serious questions being asked, as we hurtle towards December 2020.

Will there be checks on goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland? Mr Johnson categorically denied there would but yesterday Mr Gove told Marr there would be “surveillance”, though not Calais-style checks, smiling impishly as if all this promise-dodging was a bit of a lark.

It’s not.

These failed planks of no-deal planning, devised by Theresa May’s government, buried with Operation Yellowhammer last October and now resuscitated by Johnson, Raab and Gove, are not good, plausible or detailed enough to create public confidence.

Not only has Covid changed public opinion and hardened it against the Tories, it’s becoming clear negotiations with the EU have completely stalled, as they were doubtless always meant to do.

On the BBC yesterday, Mr Gove trilled about one sign of progress – the EU dropping plans for an office in Northern Ireland post- Brexit. Whoop, whoop. Pre-Covid timetables dictated that the massive issues of fishing rights and security had to be agreed in June for any chance of a deal agreed and ratified by December.

So here we. No deal Brexit imminent – without any prior planning or consultation; tax cuts. freeports. lorry parks; “smart” border infrastructure.

Back to the future – but infinitely worse for Scots. Not just because of Liz Truss’s leaked warnings about likely conflict with the WTO, risks of smuggling and higher prices for imports. Not just because Covid’s reduced the economy to its knees and Rishi Sunak’s job retention scheme hasn’t managed to persuade firms such as Primark and John Lewis to keep furloughed workers in jobs.

But because the protection devolution has given Scots during the Covid crisis is about to be stripped away before Brexit.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Last week the British Government sparked fury over new plans to create powers over a UK “internal market” which would force Scotland and Wales to accept any food or environmental standards 
Britain might agree in post-Brexit trade deals.

Constitution secretary Mike Russell has written to Mr Gove urging him to scrap plans for the “biggest Holyrood power grab yet”. But there’s been no reply.

This is set to be an existential battle.

Other political parties at Holyrood have joined the SNP in attacking the power-grab and legal experts predict the row could end up in the UK Supreme Court – an arena that’s already backed constitutional arguments made by Scots politicians.

Of course, neither Brexit nor a raid on Holyrood’s powers has the same immediacy or importance as our recent collective, lockdown experience. But, as Mr Johnson and Mr Gove may be about to discover, Covid has dramatically lowered public tolerance for badly managed, unplanned and damaging political vanity projects. Brexit bully boys, beware.



Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.