What has stopped Britain from leaving the European Union, three years after it voted to do so? Is it the difficult negotiations over the Irish border? The cold facts of parliamentary arithmetic? Or is it the nebulous nature of Brexit itself, wherein 52 percent of Britons delivered a vague mandate to Leave and left it to politicians to fill in the details?
No, according to Boris Johnson, Britain’s new prime minister; it is none of those things. Outside 10 Downing Street today, he identified the real barrier to Brexit: a lack of optimism.
“It has become clear that there are pessimists at home and abroad,” said Johnson, bouncing on his heels with the enthusiasm of a Labrador. He attacked the “doubters, the doomsters, the gloomsters” who do not believe in Britain’s glorious post-Brexit future or its ability to reach those sunlit uplands. “The people who bet against Britain are going to lose their shirts,” he added.
These stirring yet vague demands for positivity were a regular feature of his campaign for the Conservative leadership. His final column for The Daily Telegraph—one he was paid £250,000 ($312,000) a year to write—argued that more “can-do spirit” was needed to resolve a puzzle that has tormented Parliament for months. After all, he wrote, “if they could use hand-knitted computer code to make a frictionless re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere in 1969, we can solve the problem of frictionless trade at the Northern Irish border.” (It was left to scientists to point out that Apollo 11’s reentry was not “frictionless”—that is why it had heat shields. Johnson might also have mentioned that the moon mission was the culmination of years of intensive planning and preparation.)