A friend, who always has penetrating insights, told me she always knew how Brexit would end because Boris Johnson, like former reality TV star Donald Trump, follows a script.
“It’s all a show,” she said.
This particular show started with the beau jeste – putting oneself forward to lead the crusade to free Britain from the fiendish designs of European One Worlders and redeem the empire. Trump followed a similar script with his absurd 2016 presidential campaign and the reductio ad absurdum slogan “Make America Great Again.”
It doesn’t matter if Boris or Trump actually believes in the cause or even in their own rhetoric. It’s not about that. It’s about recognizing a political opportunity and understanding there’s no downside because thoughtful, measured statesmen and their facts are boring in comparison to alternative facts and alternative realities.
It’s about The Show.
Following the script
In fact, there is no Donald Trump or Boris Johnson. They only inhabit characters because in the end, there’s no “there” there. No actual people with core convictions. They’re just actors and what characters seek is a stage … a good crisis that calls for negotiations and important speaking parts. And never has there been a crisis like Brexit as Britain struggled to free itself from 47 tyrannical years of peace, affluence and economic growth.
Following the formula of a good script, the conflict arises in the second act that only the hero can resolve. It’s why Boris rode to the rescue when Theresa May tried, and failed, to get an deal to escape the EU. Will Boris get a deal? Will the UK leave the European Union battered and bankrupt? Will those craven EU villains realize they’re up against a Churchillian hero, chicken out and give Boris “the easiest deal in history?”
Boris is more Nick Bottom than Julius Caesar. So, in the denouement, the UK comes out with a deal that keeps them tied to the EU for years, but with far fewer advantages of actually being in the world’s largest and more successful trade area. But it’s not the deal, it’s how you sell the deal in the Telegraph, Daily Mail and Daily Express.
• “grants Britain more trading rights within the European Union than any other third country,” notes the New York Times. No tariffs and no quotas on goods going either way. But that’s just goods and does not include services, which make up about 80 percent of the British economy. That’s an incredible fail for Boris considering 10 percent of the UK’s GDP once came from financial services alone … which are moving to Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Paris.
• was hammered out with EU officials, and Boris and his supporting cast were snubbed when they tried to deal directly with EU member states. The union stood strong. That will come back to haunt the UK for years as EU countries take advantage of the UK’s vulnerabilities.
• keeps Northern Ireland in the EU customs area so there’s no hard border. It allows EU inspection of goods going from the north to the Republic, which remains in the EU.
The Times concludes Britain was always going to be the loser in the deal because Britain earns about 13 percent of GDP from exports to the European Union, while the EU only generates 3 percent of its GDP from exports to the UK.
‘Brexit: The Sequel’
Brexit, touted by Boris, Nigel Farage and David Davis as unleashing Britain true economic potential, will leave the UK poorer and ever more dependent on the EU. But that doesn’t matter because Boris Johnson has made a great career out of spinning the facts. As a reporter for the telegraph, he spent a big part of his early career as a “journalist” writing out-and-out lies about the EU … that is, when he actually felt like going to work.
He created a false narrative, then sold that narrative to the public as Brexit. Except this new deal might not be to the liking of the European Research Group, the most rabid Brexiteers. The deal could still be voted down in Parliament and the great thing for Boris is, if the ERG torpedoes the deal, it won’t be his fault. But Britain will still be broken.
This same depressing tragedy is playing out in the US. In four years, Trump has left American institutions and global alliances in tatters. Americans are poorer and sicker and the middle class is shrinking every day. We have fewer allies, and our foes are stronger. But none of that matters because Trump says he’s made America great again, and it’s how you sell it on Fox News. Never mind the fact that it reached its economic zenith under his predecessor, Barack Obama, when GDP growth reached a stellar 3 percent in 2015, six short years after the Great Recession of George W. Bush. (By comparison, Germany’s 2019 GDP growth was 1.7 percent.)
Of course, Trump and Boris have no plans to simply leave the stage. Trump is still trying to overturn the US presidential election, which surprises no one. Boris is a good deal more cunning, so it’s difficult to anticipate what he’ll do next to stay in the spotlight. But you can bet that as Brits come around to the fact they were hoodwinked, Boris will have to find something else to blow up as a distraction
“Brexit, the Sequel” promises Boris endless new scripts and starring roles including a turn as James II trying to reclaim Scotland. We hear that Netflix has already bought the rights.
About the author:
Terry Boyd is co-founder of Dispatches Media, based in Eindhoven, Netherlands. Boyd has been a military reporter, business reporter and an entrepreneur, founding Insider Louisville, a pure-play digital news platform, in 2010.
Boyd & Family are long-time expats and have lived in Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.
Co-CEO of Dispatches Europe. A former military reporter, I'm a serial expat who has lived in France, Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.