Large 15.2.18

In a week’s time, the Cabinet will gather for the key meeting to agree its position on the Brexit deal Britain will try and strike with the European Union. It has been a long time coming, but a Cabinet position being on the horizon is to be welcomed. Heralding the arrival of this overdue moment is a series of five speeches by senior Cabinet Ministers, culminating with a speech by the Prime Minister herself, seemingly explaining what has been agreed. The first of these speeches was delivered this week by the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, and it gave us an interesting insight in to what is to come.

Boris, of course, has his critics as well as his admirers. Often the Foreign Secretary resembles one of those 1950s seaside resort end of the pier show comedians. He’s not yet Archie Rice, more an upmarket Ken Dodd – a cheeky chappy, with a nod here, a wink there, a swish of the metaphorical tickling stick, but with a Latin phrase or a Greek myth thrown in for good measure.

Without Boris Brexit would probably not be happening. He was the front man who made Leave seem exciting. Of all the leading Leavers Boris has a special responsibility to explain how it will work and what opportunities it provides. On his shoulders rests an especially heavy responsibility, because many voters trusted him – and he knows it. His speech this week was a belated attempt to provide some answers – and, contrary to much of the coverage, it did.

The speech has received a bumpy reception. It was powered by a great deal of recycled material (someone needs to remind Leavers and Boris that they won, we are leaving the EU), and the usual jokes and bon mots. They were ill judged. As was the venue for the speech. This needed to be a serious substantive speech delivered in the Locarno Room of the Foreign Office, not in a cramped room in a think-tank.

If Boris does not learn to take himself seriously he cannot reasonably expect the rest of us to take him seriously either. This is a lesson he now needs to learn if he is to advance any further in national politics.

In the speech, however, was buried something very serious and interesting indeed, because hidden amongst all the jesting and waffling, was a straight concession on the need for alignment with the EU in certain key areas not just for a transition period but for the foreseeable future.

He said: “When it comes to EU standards for washing machines or hairdryers and vacuum cleaners or whatever, it may very well make sense for us to remain in alignment”

This matters because this agreement by leading Tory Leaver Boris signals a Cabinet level agreement is not only possible but is now imminent. It is a big moment for the Cabinet, for the Government, for the Conservative Party, for Britain – and for Boris.

Compromise is usually, in the end, the key if progress is ever to be made. That is what Boris did yesterday. As the leader of the winning side he is able to signal compromise from a position of strength. In doing so he has paved the way for Cabinet agreement and enabled the Prime Minister to be able to plan  on how she will negotiate with Brussels. Whisper it softly but amid all the nonsense Boris has actually done something serious and showed a bit of leadership.

Mark square bw