“Boris definitely won’t be driving the lorry,” says one of the London mayor’s right-hand men, “absolutely not.”
As if on cue, Boris Johnson lumbers straight towards the driver’s side, exposing a large, pale expanse of builder’s bum as he climbs into the cabin. Man of the People. Crack of the People.
“Have you ever driven a lorry before?” asks Andrew Baxter, managing director of Europa Worldwide Logistics and BoGo’s host for the morning, failing to keep the anxiety out of his voice.
“Loads of times,” says BoGo. “Now where are the keys?”
BoGo revs the engine, releases the clutch and the lorry zigzags across the forecourt.
“He’s breaking the speed limit,” a lorry driver observes drily. “You’re not meant to go more than 5mph in here.”
Baxter was beginning to take the “Let’s Take Back Control” logo that was splashed down the side of his lorry rather more personally than intended. Suddenly, the thought of a dull EU bureaucrat behind the wheel was rather more attractive than a blond maniac. Where’s the red tape when you need it?
Tant pis. To hell with the speed limit, BoGo had time to make up having arrived 45 minutes late for the launch of his own Britain Out of Europe campaign in a freezing cold warehouse in Dartford.
“I’m sorry I’m late,” he announced. “I got terribly delayed on the train. Ho, ho. Let’s take back control of south-east trains. Ho, ho.”
That gag fell flat on all those members of the audience who had managed to get to the event by train in plenty of time and had been at risk of hypothermia ever since, but was lapped up by most of the few dozen Europa staff who had come to listen to him. BoGo is the closest thing to a celebrity the leave EU campaign have, and BoGo visibly thrives on their adoration.
“Economic inter-penetration,” he said. It wasn’t clear if this was meant to be a serious piece of analysis or sexual innuendo. Either way, it missed its target and got no laughs. BoGo tried another tack.
“Bonjour! Mais non!”
That was better. BoGo was up and running. Demented bureaucrats forcing us to under pouvoir notres vacuum cleaneurs! Why shouldn’t we be allowed to crash our camions into ponts if we wanted to rather than have them restricted to four metres in height? If the EU had its way no one would be allowed to talk Franglais ever again. And that was pretty much the entire message. Buffoons on the dedans, buffoons on the dehors. The referendum choix was simple; whose buffoons would you préférer?
Merci and good nuit.
The questions from the staff were rather more nuanced than BoGo’s speech. Or his replies. Were there any downsides to leaving the EU? Absolument non. It was aussi clear as jour. The Frogs and the Krauts would still be gagging for all our clobber and we could keep out any foreigners we didn’t like. Un no-brainer. Haver your gateau and manger it. A few people looked confused by this. If it had all been that simple why had he apparently agonised for so long over which way to jump?
Was it possible he was just in it for himself? Was he just positioning himself to be the next prime minister whatever the result of the referendum? Têtes you win, queues you lose. “That’s an outrageous thing to suggest,” said BoGo, crossing his fingers tightly behind his back. “This isn’t about me.” If true, it would be the first thing BoGo has come up against that isn’t.
“People want to focus on the issues, not the personalities,” he continued, doing his level best to steer clear of the issues. For what was meant to be a major speech on Europe, BoGo had had surprisingly little of substance to say.
“What about Uber?” asked a woman who sounded as if she might have been married to a London cabby.
“Ah ja! Deutschland über alles.” The Franglais Tourette’s had spread into Hunglisch.
BoGo started to shiver. His attention was beginning to wander even if his audience’s wasn’t. Time to move on to be late for the next even in the schedule. But something felt wrong to BoGo. The gags had been OK but somehow he felt he hadn’t quite got his message across. One more go.
“Don’t listen to the Gloomadon Poppers.” Or take them, presumably. “Have the guts to leave the EU for if we do, Britain can be like, um, um, um ...” The right word just wouldn’t come to mind. But then a lightbulb moment. “Canada. We can be like Canada.” Sept years of uncertainty. That should sell it.
This article was written by John Crace, for theguardian.com on Friday 11th March 2016 17.38 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010