Article / 27 June 2016 at 13:13 GMT

Saxo on Brexit: Johnson's made his bed — he better lie in it

Former managing editor, / Saxo Bank
  • Boris Johnson in pole position to become UK prime minister in October
  • 'Leave' strategy delivered him a victory he may not have wanted
  • Control of affairs, not immigration was No. 1 issue, says Johnson
  • Spate of racist incidents in UK since Friday's result suggest otherwise
  • Cameron hands him the poisoned chalice of taking UK out of EU
  • Has to prove he can move beyond gimmickry to real leadership


But I only meant to give him a bloody nose! Photo: iStock

By Martin O'Rourke

So what does the master tactician Boris Johnson do now? He's got the victory he fought for and his coronation as leader elect of the Conservative party and leader unelected of the country looks a formality.

Yes, he is likely to face a formidable challenge from party stalwart Theresa May, but the wind is with him and from this position, it is hard to see him losing.

And yet, all is not well in his world. That he wanted the 'Leave' campaign to be a success is not doubted but success in Johnson's terms was not necessarily the same as winning.

Johnson, along with much of the Brexit campaign (see Nigel Farage's initial comments as the polls closed on Thursday night), probably never really believed that the UK public would vote to leave the European Union.

Instead, he seems to have fought a campaign based on damaging two of his principal rivals for the position of party leader and ultimately prime minister — David Cameron and UK chancellor George Osborne — presumably with the intent of irrevocably undermining the credibility of both and assuming the role of king-in-waiting to be cashed in at some point prior to the next election.

But the shock outcome on Friday morning has changed the timetable irreversibly.  Johnson's accession to the throne will now almost certainly take place in October after David Cameron announced his resignation with a three-month notice period handing over the poison chalice of initiating article 50 of the Lisbon treaty to his erstwhile political ally and setting in motion the two-year process that will see Britain's 43-year relationship with the EU come to a final end.

Talk about revenge as a dish best served cold. Johnson now knows he has to pick up the baton and run with it from the autumn to take Britain forward on its brave new path, quite possibly eventually without a Scotland that voted nearly 2-to-1 in favour of 'remain' and potentially with a Northern-Ireland electorate increasingly agitating for some kind of unification debate or referendum after it too voted for retaining EU membership.

That's rather a horrible legacy to have to manage one suspects, especially when many of those who voted for 'Leave' premised on a belief that they would return to some idyllic notion of what Britain used to be like see their hopes dashed. The reality is that they will get a Britain that we used to have but which more accurately reflects the broken decade of the 1970s and early 1980s when extremism on both sides of the political fence fostered an environment in which rioting in the likes of Brixton, Lewisham, Liverpool and London were commonplace.

Sadly, such a picture is already emerging. A spate of racist incidents this weekend including the circulation of laminated cards carrying the stark message "leave the EU/No more Polish vermin" indicate that there is a legitimisation process of extreme views underway that has made the streets of the UK a more dangerous place than they were just a few days ago.

Johnson has already tried to put this particularly virulent genie back in the lamp in interview with The Daily Telegraph this morning by claiming the number one issue for the 'Leave' campaign was always about establishing control and restricting the EU's ability to interfere in domestic matters.

"It is said that those who voted Leave were mainly driven by anxieties about immigration", said Johnson. "I do not believe that is so. After meeting thousands of people in the course of the campaign, I can tell you that the number one issue was control – a sense that British democracy was being undermined by the EU system, and that we should restore to the people that vital power: to kick out their rulers at elections, and to choose new ones."

Tell that of course to those who've been subject to abuse in the last few days like the Polish school children at a primary school crying over the fear that they might be sent home and they might feel like telling Johnson just what it has really become like on the streets.

And with sterling continuing to dive to yet new lows beneath 1.32 today, the nastiness that seems to be pervading the UK currently, looks only set to worsen as the pound settles into a new, relatively impoverished equilibrium.

Sterling has hit fresh 31-year lows


Source: SaxoTraderGO

With the EU also likely to play hardball with the UK — the last thing some in Brussels will want now is a thriving UK economy on its northern border as an example of what can be achieved outside the union — the likelihood is an even more fractured society where extremist elements on both sides of the political fence are able to thrive and the centre ground is lost, perhaps forever.

A quick glance at the political infighting in the Conservative Party and, perhaps even more astonishingly in the opposition Labour party, is perhaps only the start of where this might lead us. And don't doubt that behind Farage, there lurk far more extreme views that are eager to push an agenda that might make certain parts of the UK no-go areas if you happen to have the wrong accent or not quite fit in with the crowd.

The pressure is also likely to build from elsewhere too. Moody's has already downgraded the UK's credit rating, there is talk of relocation of staff from a number of the big corporations to a single-market access centre like Frankfurt, Paris or Dublin and the positions of European Union zealots like Jean Claude Juncker have already been made abundantly clear.

This is Johnson's ring. A hostile EU on the one side, albeit with some soothing noises from the likes of Angela Merkel, and an angry and now expectant British public on the other who wrongly or rightly expect some kind of delivery on immigration that is actually not going to happen.

Johnson's unholy alliance with Farage and the UKIP party is also bound to come under strain sooner rather than later as the pressure to appease those who voted for 'Leave' with the immigration issue firmly in mind clamour for more.

Johnson's career has been defined by opportunism that enabled him to overcome Ken Livingstone in 2008 to earn the post of London mayor and now looks certain to land him the top job in the UK.

But this campaign has been marked by a catastrophic failure of leadership all round from Brussels to Cameron and to the abysmally weak campaign for inclusion fought by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Johnson now has to prove that he actually has what it takes to lead.

Johnson's career has largely been sustained by gimmicks. Now the Eton-alumnus and so-called man-of-the-people has to demonstrate he can move beyond gimmickry and actually see something through to the bitter end. I don't see him succeeding.


There lurks to the right even more extreme elements than Nigel Farage's UKIP as this voter confronts former British National Party leader Nick Griffin in Dagenham. Photo: iStock

Martin O'Rourke is managing editor at Saxo Bank

Martin O'Rourke Martin O'Rourke
The Conservative Party's backbench 1922 Committee has said it wants a new leader in place by September 2 and wants to open nominations on Wednesday. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn meanwhile is set to face a leadership challenge.
Martin O'Rourke Martin O'Rourke
Cameron speaking at the Houses of Parliament condemns the spate of recent attacks on people who have come here and contributed to UK society.
Martin O'Rourke Martin O'Rourke
Cameron: "We must not turn our back on Europe or the rest of the world".
Martin O'Rourke Martin O'Rourke
It's game on now in the race to become the new leader of the Conservative Party and by default prime minister after Michael Gove says he does not believe Johnson can "provide the leadership", a serious blow for Johnson who had wanted to fight on a Johnson/Gove ticket. Theresa May has since declared her intention to stand and she will be no doubt delighted to see unity among the Brexit campaign's leading lights being ripped apart so quickly. There will be no coronation now for Johnson as this develops into what looks like a heavyweight competition.
Martin O'Rourke Martin O'Rourke
Well, well, well. Johnson rules himself out of the race. When the plate was there in front of him, he stepped down. What will those who voted for Brexit think of him now?
Martin O'Rourke Martin O'Rourke
it really does back the thesis that Johnson probably did not want an outright victory for Brexit.
Krunil48 Krunil48
Didn't get that one right did you; perhaps you had better question some of your other beliefs around Brexit.
Martin O'Rourke Martin O'Rourke
Hi Krunil48, I suppose it depends on your perspective really. He didn't step up to the plate as we suggested that he wouldn't and left behind an almighty mess which others will now have to deal with. Agreed that he's obviously out of the running for the party leadership and therefore prime minister but as he didn't put himself forward for the contest (as I argue he should have here ), it's something that can neither be proved or disproved. Regarding how I view the Brexit, well, we're only two weeks gone since the result but an absence of leadership, financial turmoil and a plummeting pound I would say are pretty good indicators that it is a bad thing for the UK and a bad thing for Europe.
Krunil48 Krunil48
I can't see where in this article you suggested he wouldn't step up to the plate. 'it is hard to see him losing'...'Johnson's accession will now almost certainly take place in October'...'now looks certain to land the top job in the UK', so no, not 'as he didn't put himself forward for the contest'. More project fear and implied racism on the part of the Leave side when Remain lost fair and square and with the whole establishment on their side, backed up with 'Polish schoolchildren crying' next to a 6 hour chart of GBPUSD. (I've noticed by the way the BBC have stopped commenting, on a ten minute basis, on the level of the FTSE - strange?). No, we are not all racists and why can you not believe that people did see lack of democracy and immigration as a result of that as a reason to leave. Your bet was wrong, the first rule of trading in that case is to get out with minimum damage. Your post, the logic of your argument and following comments look like a car crash in slow motion.
Martin O'Rourke Martin O'Rourke
Krunil48, I think we'll agree to disagree. These are opinion pieces after all, and I don't think I've ever seen an issue polarise opinion like this one.
Krunil48 Krunil48
Fair enough, thank you for your answer.


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