Tory leadership: Voters nearly 20 times more likely to describe Boris Johnson as ‘buffoon’ than ‘statesman’

The Conservative leadership frontrunner sticks to his line on trade after no-deal Brexit, despite a torrid grilling by Andrew Neil

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Saturday 13 July 2019 14:04
Boris Johnson gets grilled on Gatt 24 by Andrew Neil

More voters view Boris Johnson as a buffoon than a statesman, a new poll has found.

And the survey found that only one in five believe that he can get a better Brexit deal than Theresa May and fewer than two in five think he will deliver on his promise to take the UK out of the European Union by 31 October.

There was a clear warning to the Tory leadership frontrunner that his current popularity among the party’s supporters may not last if he fails to give them what they want, with 46 per cent of Conservative voters saying they will think less favourably of him if he signs up to a deal involving the UK following some EU rules and regulations and 57 per cent if he fails to meet his self-imposed Halloween deadline.

The figures emerged as Mr Johnson stuck by his claim that the UK will be able to continue zero-tariff trade with the EU after a no-deal Brexit under World Trade Organisation rules, despite running into difficulties on the issue in a TV interview with the BBC’s Andrew Neil.

They showed that, asked to pick three words to describe the Tory leadership frontrunner, some 39 per cent opted for “buffoon”, 31 per cent for “untrustworthy”, 29 per cent for “self-serving” and 26 per cent for “irresponsible” against just 2 per cent who said “statesmanlike” or “diplomatic”. Despite his efforts to emulate wartime leader Sir Winston Churchill as his political role model, just 4 per cent of the 1,703 people questioned by YouGov for the Best for Britain and Hope Not Hate campaigns picked out the world “Churchillian” from the list of possible descriptions.

Among the 68 per cent who said they were “not confident” of Mr Johnson improving on Ms May’s deal were more than half (58 per cent) of Tory voters questioned. Just 20 per cent of voters, and 34 per cent of Conservatives, said they were confident he would.

Almost half (48 per cent) of those questioned said they were not confident that the former London mayor would take Britain out of the EU by 31 October, against 37 per cent who were not. But Conservative supporters were far more likely to believe in his pledge, with 56 per cent expressing confidence that he will deliver on it.

Mr Johnson has vowed to take the UK out of the EU by Halloween, with or without a deal. But he has faced widespread scepticism over his claims that a no-deal Brexit need not mean accepting tariffs such as 10 per cent on motor vehicles and 35 per cent on dairy products under the WTO’s “most favoured nation” terms.

After telling Neil on Friday that tariff-free trade could continue on a “standstill” basis under rules set out in paragraph 5b of a WTO agreement known as Gatt 24, Johnson was forced to admit that he did not know about paragraph 5c, which makes clear that this can only happen where both sides have agreed a plan and a schedule for the formation of a full free trade area “within a reasonable length of time”.

And he was challenged over his understanding of the rules again at a Tory leadership hustings in Wyboston, Bedfordshire, on Saturday.

Retired teacher Heather Wilson, from Northampton, asked him: “If there was a written exam on international trade conventions affecting Brexit options, such as - but not limited to - Clause 5c, which candidate would be top of the class?”

After a lengthy hesitation, during which he recalled that “I used to do very, very well in written examinations, I can tell you” Mr Johnson insisted that there was “ample” possibility for a standstill arrangement under Gatt terms, though he conceded it would need the full agreement of the EU.

“Is there scope within the Gatt treaty to come out with a standstill agreement between us and the EU?” asked the Tory leadership frontrunner. “There is ample scope to do so

“It does depend - as both paragraph 5b and paragraph 5c and probably 5d, for all I know, make clear - on mutuality, it does depend on us both doing it.

“The question is will the EU want to be flexible, will they want to come to some sort of agreement with us? I think overwhelmingly, given the huge balance of trade surplus they have with us, given the advantages to businesses and citizens on both sides of the Channel, I think that they will want to do a deal. I’m very optimistic about.

“But in order to get there, you do have to prepare to come out on straightforward WTO terms, without even making use of that fabled paragraph.”

The YouGov poll found that 45 per cent of voters want to avoid a no-deal Brexit, against 40 per cent who would support it. Among Tory voters, this balance is reversed, with 68 per cent backing no-deal against just 20 per cent opposing it.

Over three-quarters of people who voted Tory in 2017 do not think a Brexit deal that means that the UK is still following some EU rules would honour the 2016 referendum. Only 9 per cent of Conservative voters believe that a soft Brexit deal is honouring the referendum vote.

Commenting on the poll findings, Best for Britain CEO Naomi Smith said: "These results show that the country is anti-Boris Johnson. And that's no surprise - in one fell swoop this week he made us look like cowards to the US and idiots to Europe.

"It's disgraceful that a tiny fraction of the population will be forcing this buffoon on the rest of us. This country is in desperate need of a different direction. That's why, on 20 July, I will be marching to say no to Boris the buffoon and yes to Europe."

Hope Not Hate CEO Nick Lowles added: "Boris Johnson has hinted at a no-deal Brexit which most voters oppose but which his own base craves. At the same time, few people have confidence he can negotiate a better deal from Brussels.

"A no-deal Brexit would have a devastating impact on communities already struggling but Boris Johnson has little room for manoeuvre because of his posturing during the last few months.

"What Britain needs is for the politicians to come together and work out a process that can bring the country together, and ultimately giving the final say to the voters."

YouGov questioned 1,703 adults online on 4 and 5 July

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