Boris Johnson, the former London mayor and current British member of parliament, used an unexpected venue to make his first substantive public “address” since the Brexit vote sank global markets and pushed the pound to 30-year lows against the US dollar: a newspaper column that the Daily Telegraph pays him huge sums of money to write.
In “I cannot stress too much that Britain is part of Europe—and always will be,” Johnson, one of the most vocal cheerleaders of the “leave” campaign and frontrunner to become the United Kingdom’s next prime minister, makes a series of head-scratching declarations. Some are verifiably incorrect, others omit what is common knowledge to people both in and outside Britain, and still others seem to be wishful thinking.
Some of the most obvious include:
“The stock market is way above its level of last autumn”
Global stock markets lost $2.1 trillion the day after the Brexit vote, the largest daily loss on record, Standard & Poor’s reports, worse than the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy.
If you’re looking at the UK’s blue chip FTSE 100 index, it is certainly an exaggeration to say it is “way above” its autumn lows. The index itself closed on Friday down 3.2%, at 6138. That is 229 points ahead of the autumn’s Sept. 29 low, or up 3.8%.
But the FTSE 100 is made up of companies that mostly have a global footprint, making it more a reflection of investors sentiment about the global economy, not Britain’s.
The FTSE 250 index, which is comprised of smaller, UK-focused companies, plummeted 7.9% on Friday, and is now about even with its lowest levels of last summer:
Stocks are down again in early trading in Europe today.
“…the pound remains higher than it was in 2013 and 2014.”
Johnson’s statement here only holds true if you’re judging the pound against the euro, which has been depressed for years by the euro zone’s moribund combination of negative interest rates, stagnant growth, and soaring unemployment.
Against the US dollar, a more apt comparison given the US and UK’s improving unemployment picture (at least before the Brexit vote) and modestly growing economies, the pound has dropped sharply since the vote and is well below 2013 or 2014 levels:
In fact, the pound is now languishing at a 30-year low against the dollar:
Like with stocks, the early indications are that the pound will fall further, no matter which currency you’re comparing it to.
Johnson’s suspect economic analysis aside, he appears to be suffering from amnesia when it comes to his own public statements:
“The economy is in good hands. Most sensible people can see that Bank of England governor Mark Carney has done a superb job—and now that the referendum is over, he will be able to continue his work without being in the political firing line.”
Johnson neglects to mention that he was at the very front of that “political firing line” just days ago, when he accused Carney of “talking the economy down” after the central banker warned, quite presciently, that Brexit could cause the British pound to fall. Other Tories accused Carney of “startling dishonesty” for the same warning. Carney warned in May that leaving the EU could cause a recession—at the time “leave” campaigners said his warnings could create a crisis.
“We had one Scotland referendum in 2014, and I do not detect any real appetite to have another one soon.”
Actually… Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon said on June 24, after the final Brexit vote was clear, that a second referendum vote (on whether or not Scotland should leave the UK) is “highly likely” and that the Scottish government would start preparing legislation for such a vote.
“EU citizens living in this country will have their rights fully protected, and the same goes for British citizens living in the EU. British people will still be able to go and work in the EU; to live; to travel; to study; to buy homes and to settle down…The only change—and it will not come in any great rush—is that the UK will extricate itself from the EU’s extraordinary and opaque system of legislation.”
This is the magical-thinking portion of Johnson’s column. It is unclear at this point exactly how freely UK citizens will be able to move about in Europe in the future. But EU officials have been very clear that Britain needs to officially file to exit the EU as soon as possible, before any negotiations will be held on the UK’s future status.
The so-called “Norway option,” Johnson may be alluding to, in which UK citizens could have access to the EU’s open market, and yet be free from some of its legislation, comes with what may be some serious drawbacks for “leave” voters. Borders are still open to migrant workers, yet Norway has no vote on committees that make most of the rules that it has to apply to trade with the bloc.
Maybe this should have been anticipated. Long before Johnson became famous as the thatch-haired, Shrek-like mayor of London, he was an auto journalist, as Jalopnik wrote recently, citing biographer Sonia Purnell. In addition to penning lines like, “It was as though the whole county of Hampshire was lying back and opening her well-bred legs to be ravished by the Italian stallion,” (he was driving a Ferrari), Johnson was notorious for blowing deadlines, and making up details, Purnell found.
He graduated from auto writing to cover Brussels for the Telegraph, where he forged a beat in euroskeptic dispatches that were “undoubtedly colorful but they bore scant relation to the truth,” as fellow reporter Martin Fletcher wrote in the New York Times (paywall).
Johnson was paid £266,687 last fiscal year by the Telegraph to write his weekly column, according to his tax returns. The newspaper is in the midst of massive layoffs to cut costs, which may explain why a fact-checker or editor may not have been available to give his latest missive a read before publication.