01.08.19


Promises, promises. Nothing is so easy in politics as the making of promises. Much more difficult, of course, is the act of delivering; something the newly-installed Prime Minister, Boris Johnson is about to discover.

Indeed, the more extravagant the promise, invariably the more difficult it is to deliver. This inescapable truth, sadly, appears to have escaped Mr Johnson, who has spent the last few months doling out assurances over Brexit that are wholly undeliverable and stand reality on its head. It is as if he believes that bullet-proof optimism, unfaltering self-certainty and a fine line in Latin catchphrases is enough to win the day.

They will not, of course. Already the response from EU capitals has been predictably firm. To the surprise of absolutely nobody who has been watching events over the past three years, neither the withdrawal agreement nor the so-called ‘Irish backstop’ is up for negotiation. Yet, Boris Johnson insists he can secure a deal but refuses to enter discussions until the EU agrees to remove the ‘backstop’.

It is a strategy straight out of the Donald Trump ‘playbook’. The more outlandish the rhetoric and behaviour, the more political opponents, the media and the wider public are distracted and find themselves debating his agenda on his terms.

A cursory glance at the Cabinet that Boris Johnson has assembled tells you all you need to know about his agenda. The new Home Secretary’s support for capital punishment and Jacob Rees-Mogg’s determination to return Britain to imperial measurements may have captured the headlines, but this is a Cabinet built for No Deal.

Regardless of how pure the No Deal orthodoxy is round the Cabinet table, however, a solid majority of MPs across all parties remain implacably opposed to such a disastrous course of action for the country. Boris Johnson’s threat to force through No Deal by shutting down parliament until after the deadline for the UK’s departure from the EU at the end of October thankfully looks to have been thwarted and so talk has turned again to the prospect of an early General Election. Yet with both the Tory and Labour parties so deeply divided over Brexit, drafting a manifesto would be tricky, making it hard to see what such an election could achieve.

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson headed north this week for meetings with the First Minister and the Scottish Tory leader, Ruth Davidson. The latter backed ‘anyone but Boris’ during the recent leadership contest, so it is fair to assume that she has precious little influence in 10 Downing Street right now. The appointment of the MP for Worcester as a Minister in the Scottish Office rather underlined this fact and perhaps indicates how seriously Mr Johnson is likely to take Ms Davidson’s ‘demands’ that a No Deal Brexit be taken off the table.

On a more positive note, the Prime Minister did offer his backing to proposals for an ‘Islands Deal’ that would see major investment in key strategic projects in Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles. Delivery of this welcome promise, of course, will be key; a point made by a Scottish Government spokesperson.

In much the same way, it would be good to see the Scottish Government now deliver on promises it has made. During the passage of the Islands Act last year, former Transport and Islands Minister, Humza Yousaf was notorious for throwing promises around like confetti. These now need to be honoured, not least in terms of the promised improvements to our lifeline ferry services.

The Islands Act introduces a National Islands Plan, the consultation on which closed last week. When this Plan is finally published, it must include specific proposals for putting Orkney’s internal ferry services on a sustainable footing as well as replacement vessels for the current ageing fleet. It must also set out how Ministers plan to implement RET and use the funds that have been saved on RET over the last year for the benefit of our islands.

The promise of RET for Northern Isles routes was made by the First Minister when in Shetland at the last election. Nicola Sturgeon was back there at the weekend, campaigning in the forthcoming by-election. It would be nice if she delivered on the promises she made last time she was there before offering up new ones.


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