How furious Sir John Major was this morning with Boris Johnson. The former Prime Minister warned that “if the Leave campaign led by Boris Johnson” continues to divide the Tory Party, and if Boris becomes Tory leader, “he will not have the loyalty of the party he divided”.
Major also said of the lateness of Boris’s conversion to the Leave camp:
“I don’t know whether he had a day trip to Damascus and came back, but until the very last moment everyone thought he was in favour of staying.”
And here is Major on the attitude of Boris, Michael Gove and Iain Duncan Smith to the NHS:
“The NHS is about as safe with them as a pet hamster would be with a hungry python.”
For Major contends that in the event of Brexit, there would be “a socking great hole in our public finances”, which means there would be no extra money to spend on the NHS, especially as our net contribution to the EU “is about one third” of the £350 million claimed by the Leave campaign.
The former Prime Minister said he is “angry at the way the British people are being misled”, and he certainly sounded it. Of Leave’s approach to the immigration issue, he said:
“I think their campaign is verging on the squalid.”
All this can be seen on the Andrew Marr Show, where Boris appeared some minutes later, sounding rather less angry. He nevertheless had to engage in some quite fancy footwork to parry the accusation that the Leave campaign has been spreading various bits of information which he and others know to be untrue.
So Boris said “we have lost control of that £350 million”. When challenged to justify a Leave poster which says “Turkey is joining the EU”, he replied that “Turkey has been joining the EU” for a very long time and it is still the British Government’s policy that Turkey should join, after which he sought, with characteristic ingenuity, to change the subject.
No one fights a war of movement with more brio than Boris does, but his dashes from one side of the battlefield to the other are sometimes almost as disconcerting to his friends as his enemies.
The only statement by Boris which I found myself in a position to check by personal observation was his explanation of why, when describing what he thinks will happen to the British economy after Brexit, he has decided to replace the Nike tick (which goes down before it goes up) with a hockey stick.
According to Boris:
“If you study a hockey stick closely, it just goes up.”
Now I happen to have a hockey stick, recently purchased by one of the sportier members of my family, standing beside my desk. In the vertical position, the end with with you hit (or try to hit) the ball undoubtedly goes down before it goes up. Only if one holds the stick in a very odd, and for hockey-playing purposes quite impractical, position can one get the whole thing going up.
So although I don’t wish to be pedantic about this, I have to say that Boris is wrong on this question.
It also distresses me to hear all this stuff from the Leave campaign about spending more money on the NHS. To me, that just smacks of an intellectually dishonest attempt at electoral bribery.
If we left the EU, we might or might not be able to spend more money on the NHS, which might or might not be a good thing to do. But the main benefit would be to become once more a self-governing nation: the argument put with marvellous clarity, but distinct lack of success, by Enoch Powell and others in the 1970s.
Suppose Brexit wins the referendum with English votes, but against the wishes of other parts of the United Kingdom. What then? Might the nation, so dear to Unionists such as Powell, be endangered even more gravely by a No vote than by staying in the EU?
These are deep questions, which may take generations to resolve. Meanwhile the two sides grow more and more heated, fling ever worse insults at each other (see the Sunday papers passim), and forget the doubts and perplexities of the millions of voters who have not yet made up their minds.