February 23, 2018
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Stanley Johnson: In 50 years, Brexit may look like the right move at the right time

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Pro "brexit" protesters in Old Palace Yard, London, in January 2017. (Photo:EFE/Hayoung Jeon)

Former MEP Stanley Johnson, the father of the current UK foreign secretary, told EPA's partner EURACTIV.com that Brexit should not throw out the baby with the bathwater and maintain the best the EU has to offer.

Stanley Johnson is an author, former MEP and co-chairman of Environmentalists for Europe. His latest political fiction “Kompromat” extrapolates on two recent earthquakes, the Brexit referendum and Donald Trump’s election in the US. Other characters are inspired by Theresa May, Angela Merkel, Rupert Murdoch, Vladimir Putin, Trump’s daughter and… Boris Johnson, the author’s son.

Before writing a sequel about his role in Brexit’s eventual fate, Johnson prepares a TV series on Channel 4. He spoke to EURACTIV founder Christophe Leclercq.

Your latest fiction is heavily inspired by recent events around Brexit and Trump, and perhaps also what you predict might happen soon. What’s the greatest disaster in your view: Trump or Brexit?

Chou En-lai, asked for his view of the French Revolution, is reported to have replied that it was ‘too early to tell’.  I feel the same way about both Trump and Brexit. Looking back, say, fifty years from now, from the UK’s (and even the EU’s?) perspective Brexit may indeed seem to have been the right move at the right time. Fingers crossed anyway, because Brexit is certainly going to happen.

Before the Brexit referendum I interviewed you. At the time, you were a Remainer, as spokesman for ‘Environmentalists for Europe’. Have you changed your mind? 

Brexit, as I said, is going to happen. As far as the environment is concerned, I hope we don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. We need to find a way of maintaining all the good things we put in place, both on environmental front and also as far as animal welfare is concerned.

“Kompromat”, your title, is a Russian word for blackmail material. There is talk in your book about impeaching the US President, based on wrongdoings with Russia: when do you expect reality to catch up with fiction?

Realistically, a successful impeachment looks a very long way off. You have to have a two-thirds majority vote in the Senate for clinch it, and that looks unlikely.  But KOMPROMAT does raise the issue of the Logan Act. Was that Act contravened? If so that might change the odds.

In your book, most characters are supposedly invented, but not quite… There is a former mayor of London, turned foreign minister. But he plays a relatively minor role. Are you self-censoring yourself?

You are probably right.  I tried to keep the family out of it!  My main character, the Leave Leader Edward Barnard, is more of a ‘useful idiot’, a tool to be manipulated by dark forces!

Let’s move to a practical exercise, a sequel to prolong your fiction. Let’s imagine that UK public opinion turns against Brexit, and negotiations point to a ‘Norway scenario’, i.e. single market and financial contribution. Could the UK then prefer – after all – some form of ‘focused membership’, also keeping voting rights?

Interesting scenario, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. I can’t imagine Jeremy Corbyn instructing Labour MPs to vote for a deal which effectively keeps Britain tied to the EU’s apron strings. He himself is a dyed-in-the-wool Eurosceptic. More to the point, he fears the impact on Labour candidates of any failure by Labour to ‘deliver the Referendum’s verdict’.

In this scenario, to reconsider the 2015 referendum, would you foresee a general election or a second referendum?

No, I don’t foresee a second referendum. Arguably, the June 2017 General Election,  which saw both main political parties committed to delivering Brexit, was itself a kind of second referendum.

Still in this hypothetical case, could Boris Johnson play a role, sensing trends and avoiding a geopolitical disaster? In 2017, his picking the Leave camp may have been decisive. Could he again play a historic role? 

I see you’re already planning the sequel to Kompromat!

Your book cover mentions a TV series in the making. Perhaps inspired by your experience with turning your novel ‘The Commissioner’ into a film. Can you tell us more? Would it be shown on the Continent as well?

Channel 4 which is a major independent TV Channel in the UK. They will be making six half-hour TV programmes based in my book. I very much hope these programmes are screened on the Continent as well.

Your characters include a movie star, in love with the US President’s daughter, and helping to keep Climate policies on track. What’s your dream regarding actual stars that could play in the Kompromat TV series?

I’d like to see Leonardo DiCaprio play my fictional film-star Jack Varese and Daniel Craig play my action-man Russian President Igor Popov!

Talking of the EU conveys images of treaties and regulations, more than human realities.  Do you think fiction could help reinvigorate the European project? Thanks to better mutual understanding, could it even help get a good deal between the EU and Britain?

Yes, absolutely! I think my novel “The Commissioner” which I wrote in the late eighties, demonstrated what an exciting place Brussels could be to live and work. John Hurt, who played the lead role in the film, certainly made the best of the story I told. The Commissioner was actually in the competition section of the Berlin Film Festival. Let’s hope the TV series of Kompromat wins a similar accolade. We need to build bridges!

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