John Stuart Mill would have supported hard Brexit, says Boris

From the Guardian:

The foreign secretary called (the EU) a “teleological construction” that was “ends driven”. He said the founding fathers of the common market decided to create a “new sense of political identity by legal means” – but claimed this went against liberal thinking. “(John Stuart) Mill would say that the national group, the group that most associate with each other, govern each other. But this was a new idea to try to transcend that.”

Such is the spin ahead of a major speech by Boris Johnson this week, billed as an attempt to unite Remainers and Brexiteers.

Boris’ language seems to inherently raise the white flag in the argument as to whether we’d be better off saying in the EU:

What I would like to see is this country taking advantage of the people’s decision, to get the best economic result from that decision, and do the best we can do.

But the largest white flag BoJo raises seems to be through using the memory of someone who died 41 years before the First World War, let alone the Second World War which led to the creation of the Common Market, which led to the European Union.

We’re used to the shroud of Churchill being taken up for all sorts of causes. But it is quite a first for Boris Johnson to clothe himself in the shroud of John Stuart Mill.

I wonder if Boris is familiar with this excerpt from “Representative Government” by Mill?:

Whatever really tends to the admixture of nationalities, and the blending of their attributes and peculiarities in a common union, is a benefit to the human race. Not by extinguishing types, of which, in these cases, sufficient examples are sure to remain, but by softening their extreme forms, and filling up the intervals between them.

There’s an interesting article on Mill and the EU on the LSE blog by Corrado Morricone.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is currently taking a break from his role as one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

Read more by or more about , or .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • The foreign secretary has just completed a visit of Bangladesh, Burma, and Thailand.
    He is aware that Myanmar(as Burma is called now) and Thailand are both part of the AEC, a single regional common market of Asean countries. Isolated countries are not going to prosper in the coming future.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 13th Feb '18 - 1:05pm

    Mill is my favourite, as he is probably the greatest, proponent of Liberalism.

    He rarely used the word, and that is because as he theorised, he did so with intention to make a difference in practice not on paper.

    Boris Johnson is as close to Mill as he is to Churchill, in his own mind !!!

    We can claim both figures , one was centre , to the centre left , Mill, a Liberal , who later was open to liberal socialist concepts on the economy and labour, but always with the state not the dominant player, had he lived to see the countries calling themselves socialist, he would have continued to be the classical and social liberal and Liberal, he was. He would not have been as the foreign secretary mistakenly thinks, for things that were divisive and nationalistic. I do not have a strong opinion on where he would be on these very modern issues, as Paul says , the great philosopher has actually been gone a while even if he thrives in our Liberal imagination.

    Churchill , apart from his own background , as a semi aristocrat, in upbringing and , where , if at all, relevant, class, was in policy , centre to centre right, but more centrist than not. He was also very much a father of the Common and single market. He would have been less keen on the EU , on grounds of sovereignty but would not have been a Brexiter in my view as it would diminish our clout and weaken our country , in some ways.

    We as a party and continuously as a nation, could do with more understanding of issues from a historical perspective, not that Boris Johnson does, he is better on ancient Rome, as he is a likeable and more innocent version of Nero , in his or our imagination!

  • Arnold Kiel 13th Feb '18 - 1:36pm

    Johnson is suffering. He want’s to be admired for his intelligence (always opportunistically applied, if any), but it is becoming increasingly clear that he is backing a stupid cause. So he tries to make the cause look intelligent, or educated. In this pursuit he misuses an old thinker whose thoughts predate the concepts of globalized division of labor, beneficial supranationalism, sustainability, and fair trade.

    Utter nonsense that should be summarily dismissed. He just proves once again his lack of true intellectual curiosity and honesty, hidden behind a flimsy surface of superficial, semi-intellectual egocentricism.

  • Nick Collins 13th Feb '18 - 2:15pm

    Boris to unite Remainers and Brexiteers! Yup: Boris, like Trump, the great unifier!!!

  • BJ has such contempt for the EU these days. It’s odd, considering that he was so undecided in the referendum that he had to draft two opposing articles before opting at the last minute for the negative one.

  • Nick Collins 13th Feb '18 - 2:54pm

    @ TonyH. He’s the archetypal opportunist. His only guide is what is, at any given moment, good for Boris. Neither a planner nor a deep thinker, he just wings it and makes it up as he goes along.

  • John Marriott 13th Feb '18 - 3:18pm

    Boris the Peacemaker? As Virgil might have written; ‘ Timeo Boris et dona ferentes’, or words to that effect! Quite frankly, it’s all Greek to me – or should that be Latin?

  • Andrew Toye 13th Feb '18 - 5:09pm

    Boris has given away the Brexiteers’ real agenda – the UK leaving all European institutions to be an ultra-free-market, deregulated tax haven. All the promises of protecting the rights of workers, consumers or the environment will be swept away if the likes of Johnson, Rees-Mogg or Davis get their way. Certainly not what “left behind” leavers voted for.

  • Malcolm Todd 13th Feb '18 - 5:14pm

    Dear, oh dear, John. You mean “timeo Borim et dona ferentem”, of course.

  • Just shows what a poor historian de Pfeffel Johnson is – although young Lorenzo makes J.S. Mill into some sort of liquorice allsort – which I suppose is a bit Liberal Democratist.

    Ps. Lorenzo, the grandson of a Duke is not a semi-aristocrat, and his views on eugenics, force feeding suffragettes, Indian independence, shelling part of the UK with a cruiser and sending troops in during a mining dispute does not make him any sort of centrist.

  • Aidan Turner 13th Feb '18 - 5:32pm

    Hitler is closer to Boris and Brexit than J.S.Mill. How dare he put false words into the mouth of this Great Liberal!!

  • Tony Greaves 13th Feb '18 - 7:59pm

    Why is this rubbish being given space here?

  • John Marriott 13th Feb '18 - 8:40pm

    Malcolm, thanks for putting me right. That’s what I got when I typed ‘Beware Boris bearing gifts’ into Google Translate.

  • Denis Loretto 13th Feb '18 - 10:10pm

    Surely the answer that should be given to Boris’s latest vapourings is – yes, the motivation behind the actions which led to the European Union were and are primarily political – the elimination of war between the nations of Europe. When visionaries such as Jean Monnet founded the Coal and Steel Community in 1951 which has ultimately led to the EU their main goal was to use economic co-operation and liberation to make war within Europe unthinkable. In this they have achieved spectacular success and in doing so have also greatly improved the economic performance of the region and the well-being of its citizens.

    Inventing some sort of liberal case for excluding the UK from this or even breaking up the entire Union has no intellectual or beneficial basis whatsoever. It is narrow nationalism – not liberalism.

    Best wishes

  • Lorenzo Cherin 13th Feb '18 - 11:09pm


    I think I do think that Mill was a bit of a sweetie, as for Sir Winston, views and background apart, I was meaning his policies in the Liberal government with unemployment, pensions, insurance, and , as a coalition and Tory pm, rather moderate in office.

    I know you are not keen on him, but his good qualities do outweigh the bad in my view, and Beveridge was as keen on eugenics, and the Webbs more so. And do not mention the hideous Stalin supporting mass murder apologist, very good playwright, GBS !

  • To me, one of the great mysteries of recent political history is how Boris has ever been elected to, or appointed to high office. My continental friends, without exception, see him as a blundering idiot…

  • Richard Fagence 14th Feb '18 - 8:53am

    This is further proof – as if any were needed – that Johnson is (a) barking mad and (b) increasingly desperate. And the bookies have him as favourite to succeed The Blessed Theresa? Heaven help us all if that were to happen.

  • David Raw
    I don’t get the cult of Churchill either. I think a lot of it comes down to his gift for self publicity and the desire of some people to see leaders as embodying The Nation. It’s the “great man” view the world, I suppose.

  • It could be that a nation in decline needs to invent a surrogate hero of such huge stature as a substitute for perceived former greatness. On most things, he was an impetuous disaster politically with a penchant for blaming others when things went wrong. His financial life – if known – would have brought him down (see David Lough’s recent work).

    I’ll grant him this – after messing up the Norway campaign in 1940 – he did outface Halifax in refusing to negotiate with Hitler.

  • Glenn 14th Feb ’18 – 9:31am…………..I don’t get the cult of Churchill either. I think a lot of it comes down to his gift for self publicity and the desire of some people to see leaders as embodying The Nation. It’s the “great man” view the world, I suppose……

    Exactly!.. Boris is right when he likens himself to WSC…

  • Nick Collins 14th Feb '18 - 10:38am

    Am I correct in believing that Mill once described the Tory Party as “the stupid party”? If so, I’m sure that he would have regarded it as a fitting home for Boris.

  • I am inherently suspicious when anyone claims they know what someone from the past would have said about an issue they knew nothing of in their lifetime.
    JS Mill was a Liberal and a feminist and his book “on Liberty” is rightly praised, not least by the late Jo Grimond who recommended reading it once a year ‘to purge and refresh’.
    I reject wholly the attempt by Johnson to claim Mill for the far right. It shows just how little our foreign secretary knows about Liberalism or for that matter the EU.

  • Peter Martin 14th Feb '18 - 11:20am

    It’s always possible to make the right decision for the wrong reasons.

    The Lib Dems were largely in favour of joining the euro in the early 00s. The Tories, who perhaps didn’t like the idea of portraits of Napoleon displacing the Queen’s on our currency, were largely against the idea. Gordon Brown got it right too, but his reasoning was quite convoluted and not much more rational. A currency has to be the IOU of a SINGLE government to avoid disputes between any two governments who might want to share one. It’s like sharing a bank account with your partner. Even that is unlikely to be dispute free!

    So, Lib Dems shouldn’t be too cocky and consider themselves much more intelligent than us leavers . Just like they got it wrong about the euro then so they could be getting it all wrong about the EU now.

    PS I do agree that we can’t expect anyone who lived in the 19th century to express a valid opinion on a 21st century issue. Just like we don’t have anything useful to say about what the UK govt should do in the 23rd century.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 14th Feb '18 - 1:05pm


    Mill said all stupid people are conservative, not all Conservatives are stupid.

    It was the only stupid thing Mill said as there are many stupid people who are in no way conservative , in my view all revolutionaries , violent ones, are completely stupid, no violent revolution, and most peaceful ones, are successful , most a disaster in fact , so there , this from my political and philosophical favourite !

  • Gwyn Williams 14th Feb '18 - 1:32pm

    It reminds me of the film by the late Robin Williams “Dead Poets Society”. Perhaps we could have “Dead Philosophers Society” with various acolytes of the deceased taking pro and anti Brexit positions. Would Aristotle or Plato have supported Brexit?

  • Aristotle might well have. Plato possibly, but for social rather than political reasons.

    I’d like to think Pericles would.
    We’d have to abolish slavery PDQ though.

  • Sorry – delete , and insert support the Lib Dems. Speed Reading going too fast !!

  • Peter Martin
    The UK didn’t join the Euro because it didn’t meet the necessary requirements.

  • Peter Martin 15th Feb '18 - 9:04am

    @ Manfarang,

    I agree. The euro didn’t meet the necessary requirements for any country. No-one should have joined it.

  • Richard Underhill 15th Feb '18 - 10:29am

    Ask him when the Roman Empire went to war with the Chinese Empire, and if he does not know, ask him what school he went to.

  • David Raw – “delete , and insert support the Lib Dems” strikes me as an edit that is applicable in any situation.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 15th Feb '18 - 1:41pm


    I paraphrased his quote very accurately, making the difference between small and big c conservative , explaining why the quote is not one of his best , as revolutionaries are more stupid in my view than any conservatives, as to conserve the best is better than revolting , however justified, against everything, as it ends up literally, as a government that is revolting !

  • Lorenzo Cherin 15th Feb '18 - 1:51pm


    The day that the wonderful, Tom Newirth AKA Conchita Wurst, the highly talented and humanitarian singer , LGBT and human rights and well being , proponent, won the Eurovision , and who has gone on to speak to the EU and the UN, when LDV posted the light and positive news here, as a story of interest because of his gender bending persona, there were few comments, one was from his Lordship, he said but a word, “trash !”

    The winner , was as far from trash as possible, I , and I am fussy about talent, have become a huge admirer. As I am of Mill, who called for experiments in living, and , like me, would have liked Conchita far more than he would ,Boris !

    Good one eh, Paul ?!

  • Nick Collins 15th Feb '18 - 4:32pm

    Thanks, Martin. The opening words ” I did not mean … ” suggest that he was seeking to clarify an earlier remark which had, perhaps, been misunderstood. Can anyone provide the earlier quotation?

  • Peter Hirst 15th Feb '18 - 6:18pm

    By moving to conquer one challenge, one inevitably cause others. Such is the irony of life. It is how we view these issues rather than the issue itself that is important. No-one can foresee all the consequences of their actions. The question is now what is the best course of action and keep revising the answer. To me at present it is to remain in the eu.

  • Since John Stuart Mill in his earlier years was an employee of the East India Company who had a relatively favourable view of it, I’m not sure he was firmly against wider than national constructions. He was no racist and would certainly have hated the prejudice behind much of the Brexit campaigning.

    Of course there is a Liberal case against the EU based on devolution; but no Liberal devolutionist objects to supranational structures to deal with wider than national issues; and where is the devolution WITHIN the UK from Boris’ government, which has reduced elected local authorities’ room for initiative by squeezing their budgets and attempts to force a single centrally-detemined pattern on any area seeking local powers?

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

This post has pre moderation enabled, please be patient whilst waiting for it to be manually reviewed. Liberal Democrat Voice is made up of volunteers who keep the site running in their free time.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • nigel hunter
    Ecotricity CEO on Channel 4 news tonight pointed out that we have the HIGHEST cost and France, for example the smallest.It was also mentioned that the gas WE t...
  • James Fowler
    I don't think the we should ridicule the myth, partly because that defence plays precisely into the narrative populists want and partly because there is a certa...
  • Roland
    @Joe - Thanks for the detailed response. To me automatic PAYE reporting is equivalent to the submission of a tax return for basic rate taxpayers. I used the t...
  • Andy Boddington
    That was eight years ago. You can't expect any politician to stand by statements nearly a decade ago when the political, social and financial world was totally ...
  • Joe Bourke
    Roland, Integration of the tax and benefit system has so far proved beyond the reach of any government, including Labour when Gordon Brown was Chancellor. ...