Boris rocks the Brexit boat

The foreign secretary upset the government by wading into Brexit with his views. Matthew Partridge reports.


Boris: repeating a byword for political mendacity
(Image credit: 2016 Getty Images)

"Politics... abhors a vacuum", says Rachel Sylvester in The Times, "but an ambitious politician loves nothing more than an empty space". Given the "gaping hole" where the government's EU policy should be, it's no wonder Boris Johnson has decided to fill it. His 4,000-word essay published in The Daily Telegraph last weekend was a clear attempt to burnish "his Eurosceptic credentials".

He was conspicuously silent on a transitional deal with the EU after Brexit, and insisted there was no question of paying to retain access to the Single Market. "We would not expect to pay for access to their markets any more than they would expect to pay for access to ours," he says. The piece also claimed that "once we have settled our accounts, we will take back control of roughly £350m per week".

"Boris is Foreign Secretary, and therefore most certainly has a right a duty to say what he thinks about the Brexit process, counters Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail. What's more, he is correct to take a hard line, since "the readiness of some politicians and commentators to support a hefty divorce payment is bizarre the political equivalent of terrible self-harm".

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After all, "these billions belong to us, not to the chancelleries of Europe". Overall, his article "may certainly make it harder for Remainers to give billions of pounds of taxpayers' money to the EU".

On the contrary, the article was "poor stuff", says The Times. He knows very well that the frictionless trade' ministers are always on about will "come at a cost", and he was "deeply unwise to resurrect" the claim about £350m becoming available for spending.

The figure "has become a byword for political mendacity", as the reprimand by the UK Statistics Authority reminds us. Nor does it help that Johnson "has ridden roughshod over the prime minister's authority" just before her speech in Florence on Friday. He "can stretch the perimeter of collective cabinet responsibility only so far".

Whatever the merits of the arguments, Johnson's intervention has "reinforced the perception that the UK's Conservative government, political classes, business world and society remaindeeply divided over the UK's direction of travel with regard to Europe" writes Tony Barber in the Financial Times.

Someone needs to bang some heads together sharpish, says William Hague in The Daily Telegraph. If the government can't come up with a coherent plan and promote it in unison, it will soon fall apart and Jeremy Corbyn will then end up in No. 10, "completely ruining this country".

May takes on tech firms over terror

Theresa May has ordered the internet giants to take down terrorist content within two hours or face fines, reports Sam Coates in the Times. She is also urging companies to make a more concerted effort to prevent the spread of terrorist material, with a view to developing technological solutions to prevent it being uploaded at all.

These demands follow her call to action at the G7 summit in May. And companies seem to be starting to get their act together, notes Coates. After the attacks on Manchester an London, internet companies agreed in June to establish the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism.

The prime minister is "surely right to tell the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Google they need to do more to remove material that enables terrorists to wreak havoc", agrees the Guardian's Jonathan Freedland.

The PM should also "be sceptical of the tech corporations' claims that there is little they can do" because there is just too much content on their platforms for them to oversee it efficiently. Time "may be running out" for the tech firms, says James Titcomb in the Daily Telegraph.

"While politicians have been reluctant to directly regulate Facebook and Google... their duopoly over digital advertising, a once-small but increasingly dominant part of all advertising, is attracting increased attention". This could have a big impact on their bottom line, since "ads make up 90% of Google's sales and 98% of Facebook's". Politicians may decide that the "best incentive is to hit them where it hurts".

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

Follow Matthew on Twitter: @DrMatthewPartri