In Depth

Instant Opinion: can Boris Johnson avoid being the seventh Tory PM ‘brought down’ by Europe?

Your guide to the best columns and commentary on Thursday 10 December

The Week’s daily round-up highlights the five best opinion pieces from across the British and international media, with excerpts from each.

 1. Philip Johnston in The Daily Telegraph

on the curse of the EU

Europe brought down six Tory PMs. Can Boris avoid being the seventh?

“One of the political dark arts is how to sell a half-baked deal as though it is an unmitigated triumph. If anyone can do that it is Boris. The European side needs to identify the line that he cannot cross while recognising the scope that exists for a mutually beneficial agreement. It is always possible that Mr Macron is determined to push the UK out with no deal, hoping that France can exploit the uncertainties that such an outcome will entail, certainly in the short term. If that is the case then Mr Johnson will at least be able to blame the French, which has never been a bad look for a British prime minister. But walking away with no deal will be much harder to sell than an agreement, even one which the keepers of the Brexit flame denounce as a betrayal.”

2. Timothy Garton Ash in The Guardian

on European rule of law

For Europe, losing Britain is bad. Keeping Hungary and Poland could be worse

“In effect, what the Hungarian and Polish leaders are saying to German and Dutch taxpayers is: we won’t let you make those badly needed transfers to southern eurozone countries like Italy and Spain, both of them hard-hit by Covid, unless you allow us to go on using large amounts of your money without any significant constraints. In Hungary, that means EU funds being distributed to prop up Orbán’s increasingly undemocratic regime, not to mention it benefiting his family and friends. If this shameless blackmail succeeds, the populist, xenophobic, nationalist ruling parties in Hungary and Poland will be able to go on doing pretty much what they please, being paid for it generously and, for good measure, biting the German and Dutch hands that feed them. Fast forward to Hungexit or Polexit? Why would they be so stupid? Johnson can talk of having his cake and eating it; Orbán actually does it.”

3. Jess Phillips, Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley, in The Independent

on a nation in limbo

How can Boris Johnson claim to love the country? What he has done over Brexit is reckless and dangerous

“The Conservatives cannot credibly claim to have any interest in the UK’s economy, its future and prosperity, if they fail to get a deal that protects these people and these families. It shouldn’t need saying – it should be at the forefront of Boris Johnson’s mind with every move he makes – but these are people’s lives he is playing with. On the line is a family’s ability to pay their mortgage, to give their kids presents at Christmas or to plan a holiday for when this awful pandemic is finally over. On the line is the security of knowing you can fix the car, or pay the monthly bills... It is unbelievable (although, frankly, I am no longer shocked at the level of incompetence of Johnson and his ministers) that the government has left the people in my constituency and the UK trapped by this uncertainty about the future.”

4. David Aaronovitch in The Times

on pressure to support views

When do public displays of piety go too far?

“British football has long been an arena for sentimental piety. In my time as a Spurs supporter one-minute silences and black armbands to mark the deaths of long-forgotten club officials or events utterly extraneous to football have proliferated. Fortunately the precarious mass silences, which were always in danger of being broken by some rowdy non-conformist, have now largely been replaced by one minute’s applause. Much more realistic. What most of us do most of the time we’re confronted with these demands is go along with it. If my dinner host toasts the Queen, I stand and sip. I have not yet interrupted a school carol concert by shouting, ‘Offspring of a virgin’s womb! What are you teaching these children?’ I see what others get out of it, and I respect that. So it’s a big decision to interrupt the ritual and show your contempt for it. And this is where I fall out with the booing Millwall fans last Saturday.”

5. Tim Wu, professor of law at Yale University, in The New York Times

on checks and balances

What Really Saved the Republic From Trump?

“The survival of our Republic depends as much, if not more, on the virtue of those in government, particularly the upholding of norms by civil servants, prosecutors and military officials. We have grown too jaded about things like professionalism and institutions, and the idea of men and women who take their duties seriously. But as every major moral tradition teaches, no external constraint can fully substitute for the personal compulsion to do what is right. It may sound naïve in our untrusting age to hope that people will care about ethics and professional duties. But [James] Madison saw the need for this trust. ‘There is a degree of depravity in mankind,’ he wrote, but also ‘qualities in human nature which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence.’ A working republican government, he argued, ‘presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form.’”

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