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Emmanuel Macron is refusing to take the blame for Boris Johnson's lies – but that doesn't mean they'll stop

The prime minister is using his trip to Europe to be blatantly dishonest about the Northern Irish border. No one believes what he’s saying, but he knows it doesn’t matter

Tom Peck
Political Sketch Writer
Saturday 24 August 2019 18:04 BST
Emmanuel Macron dismisses Boris Johnson's hopes of new Brexit deal in 30 days

Boris Johnson’s career only makes sense once you’ve worked out it is a kind of bull****-themed escape room. Find the lie that opens the door and takes you to the next level, then the next one, then the next one, and once each has closed behind you there’s not a thing the truth can do about it (at least for now).

It is why, for example, during the Tory leadership contest, whenever he was asked what his actual Brexit strategy was, he would, every single time, offer words very much along the lines of: you disaggregate the elements of the otherwise defunct withdrawal agreement. You keep the parts on which there is agreement, and you get rid of the parts you do not.

Absolute filth. Obviously. Complete garbage. But lo! He’s prime minister now, he’s off on his first foreign trips and what do you know?

Angela Merkel tells him the withdrawal agreement isn’t going to be reopened. She tells him to go and find an alternative to the backstop "within 30 days" and if he does, the backstop doesn't have to be used.

Johnson and his shamefully large army of media sycophants herald this great breakthrough. As if finding an alternative to the backstop hasn't always been the entire purpose of the backstop. Nothing, absolutely nothing, has changed.

And now, in Paris, in the sunny courtyard of the Elysee Palace, Emmanuel Macron has told him that the backstop is “indispensable ... to preserve the integrity of the single market, which is the foundation of the European project”.

Of course he has. As he was always going to. But that doesn’t matter any more. Because our prime minister can glance up at the sky, do a little smirk, and move straight on to the next lie, the one that he thinks will allow him to shift the blame for his own failures on the European Union in the general election for which planning is already well under way.

Because when no deal is reached, and the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland can no longer be kept open, Johnson wants the European Union, and more accurately the UK public to know that, “under no circumstances will the UK be instituting, imposing, checks or controls of any kind at that border.”

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The hard border, will, he says, be the European Union’s fault. For now, he knows, it doesn’t matter that his own government’s analysis, as leaked to The Sunday Times, calls that position unsustainable". It doesn’t matter that, for example, a German MEP called Elmar Brok has been on UK television several times in the last 24 hours to explain why that position is so obviously drivel.

The UK’s only strategy to save itself is to do super high-speed trade deals with anyone that will have us. Still, no country or trade bloc, certainly not the United States, and certainly not the European Union, is going to do a trade deal with a country that it thinks rightly or wrongly cannot guarantee standards on products coming in and out of its customs territory.

But that is the lie that allows him to escape today, and into tomorrow, where new ones can be found. And this one can just join the rest, to be exposed at a more convenient time, when it will all be too late.

He knows it. Macron knows it. Merkel knows it. Even we know it. Nothing any of us can do though, not for now anyway. In the end, of course, there’ll be a room that no lie can open. There’ll be no way ahead. Trouble is, by then, it’ll be far too late for the rest of us to turn back.

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