The Guest Blog

Guest blog post by Jonas M. Helseth.

As a Norwegian, I grew up with a fair deal of respect for the UK’s leadership in Europe and the rest of the world. I suppose Norway could be called quite anglophile. My professional career within climate change mitigation has only strengthened that respect over the years. The British mix of ambition and pragmatism has contributed immensely to securing EU climate leadership, and it will be a huge challenge to replace that going forward. It is therefore with dismay that I now watch the news.

I would like to apologise in advance to any British readers who might take offence at this somewhat sarcastic piece. Rest assured it’s not personal. But the way things seem to be going, unless you act, the only thing left to respect might be Britain’s Great sense of humour.

Apologies due

It does indeed resemble a jest, doesn’t it; one that even had the US State Department’s spokesman struggling to compose his face. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has just employed as Foreign Secretary a man who has, according to former colleagues, spent much of his professional career spreading misinformation about Europe. France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault put all diplomatic protocol aside, calling Boris Johnson a «liar with his back against the wall». Under normal circumstances this would amount to a rather shocking statement, yet according to a tweet from Thomas Mayer at Austrian daily Der Standard on Friday 15th July, the EU foreign ministers’ informal dinner on Sunday 18th was cancelled as a ‘cold reception’ for Johnson. Circumstances are clearly anything but normal. The new Foreign Secretary owes several foreign Heads of State, including US President Barack Obama, an apology. Not to forget, he may quite possibly soon have to apologise to his own nation as well.

EU Single Market access and other splendid illusions

The new Chancellor Philip Hammond has said the UK will “come out of the EU’s Single Market”. That makes sense, given his apparent ruling out of the ‘Norway model’ of EU relations in his Chatham House speech from 2nd March: “If we care about real sovereignty, about being able to shape the decisions which affect us, then the Norway model is definitely not for us”. In that I can only agree with him; as I noted here earlier, for the UK, leaving the EU in favour of a Norwegian model would be a very poor choice.

His statement is however in direct contradiction with the Vote Leave campaign’s claims (“Britain will have access to the Single Market after we vote leave”). It’s worth noting that this specific Vote Leave claim was actually repeated by Boris Johnson in his The Telegraph column back when he still thought he could deceive himself right into Downing Street 10, only a few weeks ago. Thankfully, good folks have set up Vote Leave Watch, a campaign to hold leading Brexiters to account for their contradictory claims and unfulfillable promises. It seems clear they won’t lack for work to keep them busy.

Despite his excellence, Johnson is not the only one in Her Majesty’s new government who might come to regret a statement or three. The new ‘Principal Secretary of State for Exiting the EU’ (imagine the face expressions of EU colleagues when they receive that business card) David Davis on 26th May tweeted thrice about the post-Brexit bilateral trade deals the UK would land with Germany, France, Italy and Poland. Either the man truly assumes that if only the UK voted against EU membership, the EU would simply magically disappear altogether. Or he’s extremely poorly prepared for the job he’s taking on, if he actually doesn’t know that the EU is negotiating trade deals on behalf of all its member states. In other words: his bilateral deals are illusions.

But then, England has elected to be splendid not in isolation, but in illusion.

If Davis actually believed his own tweets, this could have been quite hilarious. Unfortunately however, Davis statements in May are far more likely to have been another well-calculated Leave campaign truth-bender. After all, one of Leave’s arguments was that once ‘unshackled’ from the EU, Britain would be able to negotiate its own splendid trade deals.

The Great Pun without Fun

It could indeed have been tempting to dismiss the surreal events now unfolding as a Great British pun unleashed upon the world. Except that even when stretching the boundaries of the British black humour I’ve come to appreciate so much, it’s truly challenging to find this amusing. Because if it’s all just a game, then it’s a game with millions of people’s fortunes, dreams and future at stake.

Vote Leave claimed EU citizens in Britain would have nothing to fear after Brexit. Captain Cameron however, just before abandoning ship, called for ‘reciprocity’ in the case that EU should send home UK citizens. Had he forgotten that it was the UK that voted to break with the EU, in what his successor Theresa May appears to read as a wish to reduce free movement of EU citizens? Either way, David Cameron’s out, and May has refused to rule out deportations of EU nationals.

Deportations. Sorry folks: albeit an unrealistic outcome, that simply isn’t the least funny.

It won’t surprise that Her Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has contradicted that one too. In his abovementioned The Telegraph piece, Johnson stated that “EU citizens living in this country will have their rights fully protected”, and that “British people will still be able to go and work in the EU; to live; to travel; to study; to buy homes and settle down”. More of Johnson’s have-the-cake-and-eat-it deceit – the basis on which many Brits cast their referendum vote. This man, who now represents the UK in the world, bears a huge responsibility for the future of millions of British and other European expats.

Dear Brits,

Boris Johnson’s deceit has served your country poorly. Now your country serves Boris Johnson to the world. It’s high time you stand up to this incredibly poor jest, lest even the respect for Britain’s great sense of humour erode.

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