Boris Johnson’s conference speech: what he said – and what he really meant

Our chief political commentator reads between the lines of the prime minister’s address to the Conservative Party faithful

Boris Johnson launches attack parliament by accusing it of 'refusing to do anything constructive'

What Boris Johnson said: I should begin by paying tribute to my predecessor, Theresa… We will continue with your work of tackling domestic violence and modern slavery, and building on your legacy.

What he really meant: This is the duty bit. I shall build on your so-called legacy by knocking it down and starting again.

What he said: If parliament were a reality TV show the whole lot of us would have been voted out of the jungle by now… And the sad truth is that voters have more say over I’m A Celebrity than they do over this House of Commons

What he meant: I literally could not believe it when Labour MPs refused to vote for an election. It turns out that politics is more complicated than light entertainment.

What he said: Just at the moment when voters are desperate for us to focus on their priorities, we are continuing to chew the supermasticated subject of Brexit, when what people want, what Leavers want, what Remainers want, what the whole world wants – is to be calmly and sensibly done with the subject, and to move on.

What he meant: I am desperate to find a way out of the corner into which I have painted myself. In my mind, the whole world is willing me to succeed.

What he said: Let’s get Brexit done. We can, we must and we will. Even though things have not been made easier by the surrender bill.

What he meant: We can’t and we won’t, but in my mind it won’t be my fault.

What he said: Let’s get this thing done – and then let’s get ready to make our case to the country. Against the fratricidal antisemitic Marxists who were in Brighton last week.

What he meant: I can’t get this thing done, and I can’t even call an election. But I’ve got some really colourful language I would use if I could.

What he said: Today in Brussels we are tabling what I believe are constructive and reasonable proposals, which provide a compromise for both sides.

What he meant: As soon as this conference is out of the way I can compromise.

What he said: We will under no circumstances have checks at or near the border in Northern Ireland.

What he meant: That was what we proposed, but it went down very badly, so we’re not going to call them “checks”.

What he said: If we fail to get an agreement because of what is essentially a technical discussion of the exact nature of future customs checks, when that technology is improving the whole time, then let us be in no doubt of what the alternative is ...

What he meant: I am really worried now. The alternative is the end of my short time as prime minister.

What he said: The alternative is no deal. That is not an outcome we want. It is not an outcome we seek at all. But let me tell you this, conference: it is an outcome for which we are ready.

What he meant: I have to say this. I have no idea how to get round the law against a no-deal Brexit, and I know you are worried that I have no idea what I am doing. You are right to be worried. I have not a clue.

What he said: It is only by delivering Brexit that we can address that feeling in so many parts of the country that they have been left behind, ignored, and that their towns were not only suffering from a lack of love and investment, but their views had somehow become unfashionable or unmentionable.

What he meant: All I can offer you are some cheap recycled jokes and some Trumpian themes about how political correctness means no one can say what they think any more.

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What he said: The NHS is holy to the people of this country because of the simple beauty of its principle – that it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, but when you are sick the whole country figuratively gathers at your bedside, and does everything it can to make you well again.

What he meant: I shall leave my offering at the shrine of the national religion, just as all prime ministers, Labour and Conservative, have done before me since 1948.

What he said: We are the party of the NHS precisely because we are the party of capitalism… We understand the vital symmetry at the heart of the modern British economy between a dynamic enterprise culture and great public services.

What he meant: It’s basically the trick that Tony Blair pulled off, and if it weren’t for this Brexit nonsense I’d be really good at it. Whose idea was this stupid Brexit anyway?

What he said: London has overtaken New York as the number one city for investment in fintech firms, and that is before we have even delivered Crossrail – which by the way was on time and on budget when the last mayor left office.

What he meant: I used to be mayor of London, you know. Simpler times. Lots of Remainy Labour people loved me.

What he said: The Tokamak fusion reactor in Culham [is] on the verge of creating commercially viable miniature fusion reactors for sale around the world, delivering virtually unlimited zero-carbon power. Now I know they have been on the verge for some time – it is a pretty spacious kind of verge – but remember, all you sceptics, it was only a few years ago when people were saying that solar power would never work in cloudy old UK.

What he meant: I am on the verge of success. All you have to do is believe.

What he said: Let’s get Brexit done, and let’s finally believe in ourselves and what we can do.

What he meant: I have nothing to offer.

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