Leader comment: Boris Johnson's warm words won't ease Brexit fears

Brexiteers should remember the Foreign Secretary's words about not blaming Brussels after UK leaves the EU.
Boris Johnson insisted Brexit "can be ground for much more hope than fear". (Picture: AFP/Getty)Boris Johnson insisted Brexit "can be ground for much more hope than fear". (Picture: AFP/Getty)
Boris Johnson insisted Brexit "can be ground for much more hope than fear". (Picture: AFP/Getty)

It was a billed as a major, set-piece speech designed to allay the fears of those who believe Brexit will be bad for Britain.

Boris Johnson laid out what he said were Remainers’ main concerns under three headings – strategic, spiritual and economic – then attempted to deal with each in turn. The intractable Northern Ireland border issue, which could have serious consequences for the peace process, went unmentioned. The presence of 800 British troops in Estonia – to deter a feared Russian invasion after the annexation of Ukrainian territory – and some large RAF transport planes were evidence that UK security was not at risk, Mr Johnson said.

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On the spiritual front, the EU could take no credit for Britain’s culinary transition from a 1950s diet of “spam and cabbage and liver” and a “revolution in taste and styles”. No, these were the result of “our history and global links, our openness to people and ideas”.

On the economy, Mr Johnson did not mention the Treasury analysis showing the UK would be worse off under every Brexit scenario, with a fall in growth of between two and eight per cent. The Foreign Secretary instead spoke of how Britain would “stop paying huge sums to the EU every year”, “take back control of our borders” and no longer have to abide by EU red tape. It was the language of the Brexit campaign reworded with the odd, in both senses of the word, joke about sex tourism.

Brexiteers like Mr Johnson have singularly failed to spell out how Brexit will lead to a better, more prosperous life for us all. They have instead offered only empty rhetoric and insulting accusations of “fiddling the figures” when confronted by experts who suggest leaving the EU will damage the economy. It was no wonder that business leaders dismissed the speech as “warm words”.

In insisting Brexit “can be grounds for much more hope than fear”, Mr Johnson was perhaps hoping for comparisons to a British hero. But it brought to mind a comic one, Corporal Jones from Dad’s Army and his catchphrase “don’t panic, don’t panic”.

But there was one thing he said that Brexiteers would do well to remember after that fateful day in spring next year: “When we are running ourselves … we will no longer be able to blame Brussels for our woes, because our problems will be our responsibility and no-one else’s.”