Saturday, 14 May 2016

Boris The Pantomime Horse

Well, of course.

Toby Helm writes:

Boris Johnson has been accused by the grandson of Winston Churchill – the Tory MP Nicholas Soames – of “fundamentally dishonest gymnastics” for criticising a planned multibillion pound EU-US trade deal which he previously lauded as “Churchillian” for its brilliance.

Soames, the MP for mid-Sussex, said Johnson’s spectacular about-turn on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) was yet more evidence of his “complete lack of credibility and coherence” in arguing the economic case for Brexit.

The former mayor of London, a leading light in the Vote Leave campaign, wrote in his Daily Telegraph column in October 2014 that TTIP was a “great project” adding:

“It is Churchillian, in that it builds transatlantic links; it is all about free trade; and it brings Britain and Europe closer to America.

“The idea is to create a gigantic free-trade zone between the EU and the US, or a TTIP – a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.”

He went on:

“There is absolutely nothing not to like about the TTIP. As Churchill might have said, it is altogether un-sordid.

“And yet virtually the only commentary we have been offered is absurdly hostile and misinformed. The debate is dominated by Left-wing misery-guts anti-globalisation campaigners.”

Johnson also emphatically rejected any idea in his Telegraph piece that the free trade deal could threaten the NHS by leaving it open to competition from US firms, a view now taken by the Vote Leave campaign. 

“If we get the TTIP agreed, it will certainly not mean the privatisation of the NHS, and nor will it mean a green light for fracking Sussex.

“At the very most it will mean that there is some protection against government deciding – locally, at state level, or nationally – to legislate in some arbitrary and unexpected way so as to discriminate against foreign companies.

“That strikes me as a very useful thing for British companies, both large and small.

“This new free-trade pact with America is not a threat: it is a sensational opportunity to break down the remaining barriers to trade with the country that already takes 17% of our exports – the biggest single export destination for Britain.” 

But this week in a speech backing Brexit, Johnson changed his tune completely, likening the EU’s role in the ongoing TTIP talks to a “pantomime horse” in which the 28 member nations tried, chaotically, to agree a joint position on venture that was preventing the UK from striking its own, quicker and more effective bilateral trade deals. 

The speech by Johnson, who has written a biography of Churchill, lampooned the entire TTIP process: 

“As for the argument that we need the muscle of EU membership, if we are to do trade deals – well, look, as I say, at the results after 42 years of membership.

“The EU has done trade deals with the Palestinian authority and San Marino. Bravo. But it has failed to conclude agreements with India, China or even America.

“Why? Because negotiating on behalf of the EU is like trying to ride a vast pantomime horse, with 28 people blindly pulling in different directions.

“For decades deals with America have been blocked by the French film industry, and the current TTIP negotiations are stalled at least partly because Greek feta cheese manufacturers object to the concept of American feta.

“They may be right, aesthetically, but it should not be delaying us in this country.” 

Soames told the Observer that Johnson’s about-turn was astonishing but unsurprising. 

“This is typical of Boris’s now regular inconsistencies in praising TTIP transatlantic deal as Churchillian a mere 18 months ago, and now having jumped ship apparently changing his mind yet again,” he said. 

“It is another example of Boris’s complete lack of credibility and coherence on this very important transaction. People will simply not understand this fundamentally dishonest gymnastics.” 

Former president of the Board of Trade Michael Heseltine also weighed in, saying that while people loved Boris for his jokes, “consistency somehow eludes him”. 

Heseltine added: “Only recently the TTIP was an economic miracle of Churchillian proportions. Today it is buried in the rhetoric of people determined to make an economic case for Brexit.” 

Vote Leave confirmed that it was now officially opposed to TTIP because the UK should be doing its own trade deals, rather than having them negotiated on its behalf by the EU, and because it threatened the NHS. 

Former foreign secretary David Owen, a supporter of Brexit, has taken the lead in warning that TTIP is a danger to the NHS. 

Owen said: “We are agreed in Vote Leave, that whatever our political views on the present marketisation of the NHS, decisions on the NHS should for the future be for the UK parliament and devolved administrations to take. It should not be for the European commission nor the European parliament.” 

Johnson’s apparent U-turn on TTIP came under attack as he joined fellow leading campaigners at events across the country in the biggest day yet for the EU referendum campaign.

David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn both appeared at separate rallies for the remain camp on Saturday.

The prime minister, who was unveiling a campaign poster in his Oxfordshire constituency of Witney, said leaving the EU would cost UK households £4,300 each and withdraw billions of pounds in funding for infrastructure projects. 

“I am absolutely convinced that our economic security will be better if we stay in a reformed European Union and it will be seriously at risk if we were to leave,” he said.

“If we vote to leave on 23 June we will be voting for higher prices, we will be voting for fewer jobs, we will be voting for lower growth, we will be voting potentially for a recession.

“That is the last thing our economy needs.” 

Meanwhile, at a rally in London, Corbyn said the Tory government – rather than Brussels – was to blame for the “many problems” facing Britain.

“There is so much more the European Union could be doing if we had a government making the right choices and with the right priorities,” he said.

“People in this country face many problems: from insecure jobs, low pay and unaffordable housing to stagnating living standards and environmental degradation, and the responsibility for them lies in 10 Downing Street, not in Brussels.

“The Tories and Ukip are on record as saying they would like to cut back our workplace rights and many unscrupulous employers would have our rights at work off us if they had the chance.”

So get rid of them. Why do Cameron and Osborne back Remain?

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