Six years ago, Boris broke Britain to advance his career. He sold out his country out of self interest. Unlike Farage, Johnson had an air of legitimacy. Unlike Gove, he had charisma. Of all the architects of Brexit, he is the one I hold most to blame.
During an already divisive campaign, his thumb tipped the scale and ratcheted up the temperature. This marked the turning point for Leave. After Johnson got involved, the lies had gravitas. And they were big, provable lies – but that did not matter. The more they lied, the more headlines they grabbed. The bigger the lies, the more people talked about them. Suddenly, everyone was forced to take a side. Many made the choice reluctantly, but the anger across the country was palpable.
How integral Boris Johnson was to designing this strategy is debatable, but it is clear that he has benefited more than almost any other. Except, that is, for Putin.
Brexit caused untold damage to the fabric of UK society
In the immediate aftermath of the referendum, Brexit tore families apart. Friendships ended. Europeans were vilified. Racists felt emboldened and politics became tribal. But the worst thing was that this was all by design. The wreckers and conmen who sold Brexit knew that to do it they would have to break all semblance of social cohesion. They could not win the argument on facts. They had to create a culture war. The result has been a level of social destruction unseen outside of a full blown civil war.
On one side, Remainers were furious that their rights were being taken away from them. The fact that a group of conmen could lie to the country and get away with it only added insult to injury. On the other side, Leavers were being told that Remainers were trying to subvert democracy. That they were trying to prevent “the will of the people” from being enacted. Leavers equally reacted with anger at this. In reality, this was not true. Remainers were trying to point out the lies, but the public at large was not ready to accept it had been conned.
Of course, when one considers that Brexit was bankrolled by a hostile foreign power, this starts to make much more sense. For Russia, the social damage was part of the prize, not part of the cost. The number of serious commentators denying Russian involvement has dwindled fast. There are still some, but they are increasingly less credible. Carole Cadwalladr, who has been hounded for years by supposedly serious journalists, has been utterly vindicated.
The road to recovery is long and arduous
Six years later and the remnants of the culture wars are everywhere for us to see. The most obvious sign is that Boris Johnson is Prime Minister. The Policing and Crime bill is another symptom. But generally, the scales are starting to lift. Polling is now showing clear appetite from the public to Rejoin the EU, with a 10 point lead noted in a recent poll. The public is also turning on Johnson. 63% of the country think that he is doing badly as PM. His net approval score is -30. If he were to fight a general election tomorrow, polling predicts that he would lose 120 seats – even under first past the post.
His own MPs have taken note of this. They came very close to removing him from power. The Ukraine invasion may have stayed their hand, but they will be watching these polls very carefully. If they do not turn soon, the Conservative party will remove him in order to protect itself. And they will have to do it soon given the next election is just two years away.
But this is where the good news ends, because Boris Johnson has no decency. With all sides closing in, he’ll fight like a cornered rat. Worse, history has shown that he has no regard for social norms and will happily drag the country down with him.
Will Boris break Britain again?
A few days ago, Oliver Dowden announced that the Conservatives were embarking on a two year election campaign. This is when Johnson is at his worst. Knowing that public opinion is against him, he will try anything to win back some of his base. It should come as no surprise that this involves re-stoking the Brexit culture war. Just yesterday, he made an incredibly crass comment about Ukraine, comparing it to his Brexit campaign. There is so much wrong with this statement that I don’t even know where to begin.
Brexit was bankrolled and treated as a major foreign policy win by the same regime that is invading Ukraine. It was fought and won based on lies by a coward who runs from scrutiny. It typifies exactly the type of agenda that Zelensky is fighting to oppose. And, of course, Johnson knows that. His friends in the right wing press know that. And that is precisely the point. Johnson wants headlines to be about Brexit, because it’s his comfort zone. He wants to be seen as the “hero of Brexit” again. It’s the only way that he can save his skin.
I expect that over the next two years we will see a lot more of this. A lot more statements that are design to inflame tempers and create tension. We have a troll for a Prime Minister. Like any troll, the best bet is to avoid feeding him.