THIS week of Parliamentary agonies over Brexit isn’t only leaving Britain angry and confused over where we are all heading. It is also raising questions about Boris Johnson’s credibility.
More than any other Prime Minister of modern times, he is a politician in a hurry, attempting to outrun detailed scrutiny of the deal to leave the EU in his attempts to ram it through the Commons at all costs.
And frustrating though the delays are to British people heartily sick of the endless twists and turns of this saga, MPs are absolutely right to hold both the deal and the man trying to force it on the country to account.
There are too many unanswered questions about the long-term implications for Britain for it simply to be nodded through. Like a conjuror depending on speed and sleight of hand to bamboozle an audience, Mr Johnson is depending on haste to make the trick work before anybody really looks at what is happening.
The longer this goes on, the less credible and trustworthy Mr Johnson appears. Yesterday’s wrangling in Parliament further underlined what a slippery character he is. Can he be trusted to do what is best for Britain? In common with MPs on all sides of the house, I doubt it.
The past few days and weeks have raised disturbing questions about the Prime Minister’s integrity. His lack of scruple in going back on promises to the DUP about border arrangements in Ireland showed that.
So did the sulky nature of his compliance with legislation requiring Britain to ask the EU to agree to an extension of the Brexit deadline after Saturday’s vote in the Commons.
Refusing to sign the letter, and simultaneously sending another saying he didn’t really want to undertake what he was compelled to ask for, was another indication of a weasly and grudging attitude to obeying the law.
That was apparent too in his response to the Supreme Court’s ruling that the prorogation of Parliament was unlawful.
The Prime Minister of the day should be the staunchest upholder of the law, yet Mr Johnson shows every indication of having an ambivalent attitude towards it. If it suits his purposes, that’s fine. Otherwise, he wriggles and is blatant about trying to circumvent it.
This moral ambiguity increasingly lies at the heart of the Government’s difficulties. Even MPs who have come round to the idea of supporting the deal as a way of breaking the Brexit deadlock appear to do so with reluctance and reservations, because it means putting their faith in a man they instinctively distrust.
The credibility problem has long been a hallmark of Mr Johnson’s career. It has hampered his progress and been at the heart of his downfalls, but never has it been so mercilessly exposed as now.
There are myriad unanswered questions about the economic impact of the deal. Downing Street continues to keep its own assessments cloaked in secrecy, but most other reputable analysis estimates a shrinkage of the economy by between four and seven per cent. That translates into an awful lot of jobs lost, and at a rate of seven per cent which isn’t far short of the effects of the 2008 financial crisis.
Then there is the uncertainty of what happens next year – even if the deal manages to squeeze through the Commons. Britain could still crash out of the EU with no trading arrangements in place at the end of 2020. It is impossible to rule out that Mr Johnson has bought the Right’s support by tipping them the wink that their preferred version of Brexit will happen.
An overwhelming sense of Britain being set on a risky path hangs over Mr Johnson, and not only in terms of trade and the cost that working people could pay in terms of their livelihoods.
His keenness to set people against Parliament, to characterise MPs as their constituents’ enemies instead of champions, is a formula for unrest and division at a time when healing is needed.
This only raises further questions about Mr Johnson’s credibility as a leader of the country in its entirety. He has come to office at a time when a unifying figure is needed, but his slipperiness makes him divisive. Character has always mattered in politics, but the agonies over Brexit have brought it more sharply into focus than ever.
Whether intentionally or not, Mr Johnson gives the impression that political expediency trumps all else, and if he can only manage to run fast enough, nobody is going to realise that.
Except Parliament is not being fooled, and increasingly neither are the people. The questions over Mr Johnson’s credibility as an honest leader are only serving to deepen the nation’s anxieties over where all this will end.