After Jeremy Corbyn pitched a commitment to maintaining a customs union with the EU yesterday, one might have expected the Tories, despite the inevitable yah-boo response, to at least up their game to grownup level. But that expectation has been dashed this morning, after London’s formerly very occasional Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson went on the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme.
Bozza was challenged over the response to Jezza’s pitch, with host Mishal Husein reminding him that the CBI, which represents around 200,000 businesses, had welcomed the commitment to having no hard border on the island of Ireland. The alleged Foreign Secretary retorted that he had spoken to “a few” businesses who disagreed, which, knowing his propensity to dishonesty, he most likely hadn’t.
But worse was to come: Bozza told Ms Husain that the Irish border could be policed in the same way as London’s congestion charge. Before a Government minder could shout “Stop”, he was off: “There’s no border between Islington, Camden and Westminster, but when I was mayor of London we anaesthetically and invisibly took hundreds of millions of pounds from people travelling between those two boroughs without any need for border checks”. Crikey, readers! The Euston Road goes all the way to Donegal!
Quite apart from not having to carry a passport when popping in to the Euston Tap for a beer before getting on the train north, the whole idea was bonkers. The congestion charge system reads number plates. It can’t tell you what, or indeed who, the vehicle concerned is carrying. Friend or foe? Guns or butter? Duty paid or unpaid?
Border post of the Euston badlands in days gone by. Or maybe not
The ridicule was instantaneous. In the Commons, Stella Creasy asked Philip Hammond to set out the benefits of a “customs union between Camden, Islington and Westminster”. Hammond, pretending not to have listened to Today (like heck), ducked out of that one by replying “I'm sure when I go home and reflect on it, the deep meaning of that question will become clear to me”. Theresa May’s spokesman had to spin for his life.
“I thought the foreign secretary was making a comparison to demonstrate our overall approach … and that is that 110,000 people crossing the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland annually will continue living their lives as before, travelling freely. Just as Londoners travel across boroughs each day”. Very witty, Mr Wilde, very witty.
But our Foreign Secretary - yes, he really is in charge of the FO - could only ramble on “It's a very relevant comparison because there's all sorts of scope for pre-booking, electronic checks, all sorts of things that you can do to obviate the need for a hard border to allow us to come out of the customs union, take back control of our trade policy and do trade deals”. How the heck can you pre-book a vehicle inspection on a border?
At least Michel Barnier, speaking in Brussels, knew the exact significance of Bozza’s remarks. “What counts here is what the British prime minister says” was his diplomatic, yet succinct, summing up of yet another embarrassment to our country.
Bozza being a clown is not a problem. Being a clown in charge of the FO definitely is.