3 Shameless Lies Boris Johnson Told In His Brexit Treatise
The Debrief: No, leaving the EU won't solve the housing crisis.
Never one for shying away from the spotlight, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson penned a 4,200-word essay in The Telegraph on Friday in which he laid out his ‘vision for a bold, thriving Britain enabled by Brexit’. As you would expect, this put the political cat amongst the pigeons, not only because Johnson seems to have forgotten that he is not actually in charge but because his mini-manifesto was full of highly questionable ‘facts’ and conjecture.
The Telegraph has a pesky paywall so Johnson helpfully posted the article to his Facebook page so it was accessible to all, proving that he too is a man of the many, not the few and definitely not vying for Theresa May’s job.
There are many problems with Johnson’s Brexit treatise. Among them are the rift it has undoubtedly caused in his own party and, as The Independent’s Europe Correspondent points out, the fact that European newspapers are running lines such as ‘the EU will follow the Tories’ civil war with horror’ (Germany’s Handelsblatt) or describing Johnson as having a ‘nationalist tone’ which ‘risks reviving the war on Europe within the Tories and weakening the already difficult position of the Prime Minister’ (Le Monde).
However, there is one big looming problem with what Johnson wrote which is perhaps still worse than all of the above: it’s full of half-truths, willfully misleading points, inaccuracies and worst of all deliberately divisive remarks. For fun, here they are listed in order of egregiousness and debunked accordingly:
1. Johnson writes ‘once we have settled our accounts, we will take back control of roughly 350m per week. It would be a fine thing as many of us have pointed out if a lot of that money went on the NHS, provided we use that cash injection to modernise and make the most of new technology.’
The problem here, as we’ve heard a thousand times, is that there is no evidence whatsoever that Brexit will make us better off to the tune of 350 million quid. Indeed, Sir David Norgrove, the chairman of the UK Statistics Authority, has criticized Johnson for reigniting debate about this spurious claim. In a letter to the Foreign Secretary, he has said ‘I am surprised and disappointed that you have chosen to repeat the figure of £350m per week in connection with the amount that might be available for extra public spending when we leave the European Union.’ Johnson had no problem with misleading people with this figure during the EU referendum campaign so it should be no surprise that he’s at it again.
2. Johnson writes ‘I look at so many young people with the 12 stars lipsticked to their faces, and I am troubled with the thought that people are beginning to have genuinely split allegiances. And when people say that they feel they have more in common with others in Europe than with people who voted leave I want to say, but that is part of the reason why people voted leave.’
Did Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, just imply that it was unpatriotic for young people to be pro-European Union? Did he just suggest that by being so they are, somehow, not loyal to their country? Does the Foreign Secretary sound ever so slightly nationalistic here?
Let’s be clear, last year’s referendum result was far from definitive. Indeed, the result was nearly a 50:50 split. The Foreign Secretary may have allied himself with those who wanted to leave the EU, either as a result of his genuinely Eurosceptic ideology or because it seemed politically prudent to do so for his own career, but that does not discount the fact that the vote was split 51.9% to 48.1%, meaning that over 16 million people disagree with his definition of patriotism.
Johnson added that he feels a ‘transnational sense of allegiance can weaken the ties between us’. In a global world where we rely on having relationships with people in other countries for work as well as to deepen our understanding of the lives of others, his rhetoric is dangerously isolationist.
3. Johnson writes ‘And I can think of obvious ways in which Brexit can help us tackle the housing crisis – perhaps the single biggest challenge for the younger generation. There may be ways of simplifying planning procedures, post-Brexit, and abbreviating impact assessments – without in any way compromising the environment. It is often pointed out that the price of housing in certain parts of London may be increased by buyers from overseas. But there is no point in putting any kind of tax on foreign buyers because the inhabitants of 27 other countries cannot legally be treated as foreign. No one would want a tax that discouraged international investment and stopped good developments from happening. No one would want to send a signal that the London market was closed.’
Remember when Jeremy Corbyn and his team not only said they would scrap tuition fees but implied they’d look at current graduate debts retrospectively in order to win over the youth vote during election time? That was calculated, this is cynical.
Brexit cannot solve the housing crisis. We do need to relax our planning laws, that’s true, but this has nothing to do with the EU and we are already building micro-homes in an attempt to solve the crisis. Do we want laws relaxed to the point where people are living in actual shoe boxes? No. British homes are already the smallest in Europe.
Johnson also implies the EU investors have driven prices up, that’s not strictly true. So-called ‘foreign investors’ from all over the world have been involved with buying up property and renting it out at a premium or leaving it empty across the country. Such speculation has exacerbated the crisis but it didn't cause it. We need laws which state that local homes should be offered to local people first, did the Foreign Secretary do anything about this as Mayor of London? No. Did the EU advise Southwark council to knock down the Heygate estate in South London, uproot its residents and build totally unaffordable housing in its place? No.
We do not need Brexit to solve the housing crisis, we need more government investment and house building, not sticking plaster schemes like Help to Buy. We need councils to meet their building targets. We need regulation of the rental market. As Mayor of London Johnson oversaw the London Property market reach its apex, he watched the housing crisis bubble up to boiling point and did nothing. Foreign investors have played a role in our housing problems but compared with the selling off of public housing assets, inaction of British politicians and vested interested of the Buy to Let landlords in Westminster they’re a mere itch.
There is only one way to describe Johnson's pitch to young people on the housing crisis here: disingenuous and misleading.
For too long we have laughed at Boris Jonson: a man who has been fired from not one but two jobs for lying. Once as a journalist at The Times because he made up a quote, a second time when he was a junior shadow minister under Michael Howard because he lied publically about his private life. For too long his behavior has been overlooked, his actions dismissed as those of a harmless and loveable quintessentially British buffoon. There is absolutely nothing funny about this latest stunt or the selective presentation of facts it contains. If this is ‘Britishness’ at its best then, yes, I guess I do have a ‘transnational sense of allegiance’.
Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, told the BBC that Johnson is a ‘back-seat driver’ and said that while he is clearly enthusiastic about Brexit he is not ‘driving the car’. Nobody likes a backseat driver now, do they? Vince Cable, Leader of the Liberal Democrats, has urged May to fire Johnson, saying that if she does not her authority will be ‘reduced to zero’.
They shouldn’t fire the Foreign Secretary because he is undermining the Prime Minister, they should fire him because he is cynically and deliberately misleading the public in an attempt to shore up his own career.
You have to hand it to Johnson, he is nothing if not consistent.
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