I’m proud of Boris, but he’ll need to be on top of his game
By Stanley Johnson
21 July 2019
I am on tenterhooks. I can truthfully say I have no inside information. As I understand it, the votes for the new leader of the Conservative Party will be counted tomorrow and the result will be announced on Tuesday. I have been trying to find out where this great event will take place. For obvious reasons I would quite like to be there.
For me this is a bittersweet moment. Of course, as a proud father, I feel myself almost overwhelmed by the turn of events. What father wouldn’t be?
Stanley, left, with son Boris Johnson REX
Yet there is an irony here. For 20 years I served as an MEP and in the European Commission in Brussels. My last stint partly overlapped with Boris’s time there as The Daily Telegraph’s Europe correspondent.
His jokes — the one-size-fits-all condom, the straight banana — tended to mask deeper criticisms that he summarised in his now-famous “out” column, written on February 19, 2016. He concluded with the words: “In the next few weeks, the views of people like me will matter less and less, because the choice belongs to those who are really sovereign — the people of the UK. And in the matter of their own sovereignty the people, by definition, will get it right.”
I campaigned for remain but the country voted to leave and that is what we must do. Vox populi, vox dei. Ten or 15 years from now, even remainers may find themselves saying: “Do you know what? The great British public got it right after all.”
As I see it, the challenge for the incoming prime minister — whoever he is — is not so much delivering Brexit. There will be fireworks. There may be some explosions. But with or without a deal, Brexit is going to happen. No, the thing now is to seize the opportunities on offer to a new administration.
In the hustings, Boris stressed the need for better education, a 21st-century NHS and the opportunity for everyone to own their own home. Speaking as a senior citizen, I would say that a government that deals with the issue of social care and how to pay for it without bankrupting the Treasury will have cracked one of the toughest problems.
The fight against lethal urban air pollution will need to be pursued with vigour at a time when the legal underpinning of EU directives will no longer be available. And the international challenges are no less important, including — to give an example close to my heart — the destruction of the Brazilian rainforest. With Brexit in the bag, an early trip to Brazil and a tête-à-tête with President Jair Bolsonaro should be high on the list of the new PM’s priorities.
The payoff for the health and welfare of present and future generations — not to speak of the occasional caipirinha cocktail consumed in the line of duty — could be enormous.
Stanley Johnson is a former MEP, author and environmental campaigner. His latest novel Kompromat is published by Oneworld