Britain’s holiday from seriousness: end of week one

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This time last week — and yes, it was just a week ago — I wrote that the election of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister meant that Britain was no longer a serious country.

When I wrote that, the arrival of Johnson into number 10 was still a couple of hours in the future and what would happen next was still fever-dream speculation. We hadn’t quite envisaged that a person previously sacked for undermining security policy would or that the other former cabinet minister sacked for being a security risk would find themselves back in a job. We hadn’t expected that anyone who’d shown so much of a whiff of disapproval of the new Prime Minister was going to be summarily sacked or that they’d find someone who’d said even sillier things about trade than Liam Fox to replace him.

What we also hadn’t realised was just how much the Johnson government was going to be committed to perhaps the silliest, stupidest and most damaging interpretation of Brexit possible. We used to refer to this belief as cakeism, as it was rooted in the idea that you could still have your cake after having eaten it, but that name implies that there might be at least a few brief moments of pleasure somewhere in the future when you’re getting to actually eat the cake. Instead, our future consists of being told that we must commit to the belief that cake exists somewhere and at some nebulous point in the future it will be revealed to us.

And then today, we get this from the Conservative Party:

This is from a party that used to pride itself on being steady, sensible, and, well, conservative. It was a party that saw itself as embodying the common sense reasonableness and simple rationality of the British people, now reducing itself down to platitudes like “It’s simple, folks” and pitching international negotiations in the sort of terms a five-year old might find a bit crude. “We want a great new deal” with no explanation about what that deal might be and it’s the EU’s duty to give it to us, no questions asked or we’ll stamp our feet and walk away. It’s shameless nonsense, not only ignoring everything that’s happened for the past three years but forgetting that successful international negotiations are going to need compromise from both sides. It’s the action of a country and a party that are no longer interested in any kind of seriousness, only petulance and a belief that a good hard sulk in the corner will somehow allow it to get its way.

This is Britain now, after just a week of Johnson in power — a silly country that thinks the world owes it whatever it wants. If this continues, where are we going to be in a month? A year?

Many, many things. PhD student at QMUL. Councillor. Ran the 2019 London Marathon for Brain Research UK. @nickjbarlow on Twitter.

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