Some thoughts on Boris Johnson

It was a shock. German politicians, their French counterparts, EU-representatives – they all shook their heads in disbelief when it was announced that the former mayor of London, Boris Johnson, would become the UK’s new foreign secretary. German TV commentators reportedly could not stop laughing about the appointment. Others, such as the French foreign minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, described the Prime Minister’s choice as a sign of the political crisis in the UK. According to Ayrault, Johnson lied a lot during the referendum campaign and is now, what an irony, being rewarded with the post of foreign secretary.

Others tuned in, commenting on Johnson’s rather undiplomatic comments about for example President Obama’s African ancestry, and the fact that he, Johnson, lent his voice to a campaign that was made up of a lot of half-truths, to put it mildly (most of which have already been deleted from the internet). Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German foreign minister, stated: “To be honest, I find this outrageous. It’s not just bitter for Great Britain. It’s also bitter for the EU.”

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, however, did not comment on Prime Minister May’s choice. She instead called 10 Downing Street and invited her to Berlin. “I think it is our duty to work quite closely with governments of allied countries“, Merkel said. “The world has enough problems so we need to make progress in foreign policy collaboration, the way we have done it in the past with Great Britain.“

Again, Merkel behaved differently than her – mostly male – colleagues. Instead of exclaiming what an ill-fated choice the selection of Boris Johnson, a prominent Brexit-supporter, was, Merkel waits and sees, a tactic that she mastered very early on in her political career.

From a German point of view, Boris Johnson’s appointment is an interesting choice. Yes, admittedly, he is a populist. He is someone who seems to lack strong political beliefs and who jumped at the chance to join the Brexit-camp just because it fit his long term ambitions. Seldom has this been so obvious as in the case of Boris Johnson, a man who seemed to have little in common with hardcore Brexit supporters such as David Davis, Theresa May’s new Brexit-minister, or Nigel Farage, the former head of UKIP who decided to withdraw from the public eye quickly after the referendum in order to make sure that he will not be associated with the mess that is likely to follow.

However, with the appointment of a Brexit-minister and the creation of an international trade ministry, May has made sure that Johnson’s remit will be quite limited. The real driver in Britain`s Brexit-negotiations will not be the Foreign Office, but 10 and 11 Downing Street as well as the Brexit ministry and the ministry for international trade. Consequently, foreign secretary Johnson will not be involved too much in negotiating Britain´s future relationship with Europe. At the same time, May has made sure that Johnson is inside the government, not outside where he could have easily attacked her decision-making without having to carry any responsibility himself.

He will be fairly busy in the months to come, travelling the world, trying to get the message across that although the UK has voted to leave the EU, it is not turning its back against the world. In addition to that, he will have to make sure that he does not make too many gaffes, something that he is quite known for.

It remains to be seen whether Johnson will be able to curb his tongue. If he does not, he might be the first minister of this new government to be sacked. At least, that´s what the bookies think.

 

 

 

 

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Some thoughts on Boris Johnson

It was a shock. German politicians, their French counterparts, EU-representatives – they all shook their heads in disbelief when it was announced that the former mayor of London, Boris Johnson, would become the UK’s new foreign secretary. German TV commentators reportedly could not stop laughing about the appointment. Others, such as the French foreign minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, described the Prime Minister’s choice as a sign of the political crisis in the UK. According to Ayrault, Johnson lied a lot during the referendum campaign and is now, what an irony, being rewarded with the post of foreign secretary.

Others tuned in, commenting on Johnson’s rather undiplomatic comments about for example President Obama’s African ancestry, and the fact that he, Johnson, lent his voice to a campaign that was made up of a lot of half-truths, to put it mildly (most of which have already been deleted from the internet). Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German foreign minister, stated: “To be honest, I find this outrageous. It’s not just bitter for Great Britain. It’s also bitter for the EU.”

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, however, did not comment on Prime Minister May’s choice. She instead called 10 Downing Street and invited her to Berlin. “I think it is our duty to work quite closely with governments of allied countries“, Merkel said. “The world has enough problems so we need to make progress in foreign policy collaboration, the way we have done it in the past with Great Britain.“

Again, Merkel behaved differently than her – mostly male – colleagues. Instead of exclaiming what an ill-fated choice the selection of Boris Johnson, a prominent Brexit-supporter, was, Merkel waits and sees, a tactic that she mastered very early on in her political career.

From a German point of view, Boris Johnson’s appointment is an interesting choice. Yes, admittedly, he is a populist. He is someone who seems to lack strong political beliefs and who jumped at the chance to join the Brexit-camp just because it fit his long term ambitions. Seldom has this been so obvious as in the case of Boris Johnson, a man who seemed to have little in common with hardcore Brexit supporters such as David Davis, Theresa May’s new Brexit-minister, or Nigel Farage, the former head of UKIP who decided to withdraw from the public eye quickly after the referendum in order to make sure that he will not be associated with the mess that is likely to follow.

However, with the appointment of a Brexit-minister and the creation of an international trade ministry, May has made sure that Johnson’s remit will be quite limited. The real driver in Britain`s Brexit-negotiations will not be the Foreign Office, but 10 and 11 Downing Street as well as the Brexit ministry and the ministry for international trade. Consequently, foreign secretary Johnson will not be involved too much in negotiating Britain´s future relationship with Europe. At the same time, May has made sure that Johnson is inside the government, not outside where he could have easily attacked her decision-making without having to carry any responsibility himself.

He will be fairly busy in the months to come, travelling the world, trying to get the message across that although the UK has voted to leave the EU, it is not turning its back against the world. In addition to that, he will have to make sure that he does not make too many gaffes, something that he is quite known for.

It remains to be seen whether Johnson will be able to curb his tongue. If he does not, he might be the first minister of this new government to be sacked. At least, that´s what the bookies think.

Where have they all gone?

On Saturday, I spoke to a good friend on the phone. She is German, like me, and works for a British firm in London. Some weeks ago, she was sent to the Middle East to supervise a local project which unfortunately lead to her missing the full, on the ground Brexit-experience that we enjoyed here. She is still there, in the sweltering heat, and is trying to follow the post-Brexit fall out as closely as possible.

One of the things that my friend is particularly angry about is the fact that Johnson, Gove and Farage, the triumvirate that engineered the victory of the Leave-side, have now all but vanished from the political stage. Well, you might say, that’s an old hat, isn’t it? It might feel as if, given that within the last two and a half weeks, most of what people like me and my friend thought we had known about this country is no longer true. Thus, with headlines chasing each other, people seem to get used to this new reality fairly quickly.

My friend though is still struggling. “This is just not correct”, she, a strong supporter of Britain’s EU-membership, said. “How can it be that these people are not held accountable for what they have done?” Fair point. Of course, the media reported widely on Johnson’s withdrawal, Gove’s betrayal and Farage’s resignation as chair of Ukip. As we found out, he wants to remain a British MEP even though he was one of the core driving forces that made the UK vote for Leave.

Calls for him to step down fell on deaf ears, even though MPs like Tom Brake have critised him heavily. Last week, when I interviewed Brake, he said: “You can’t call for the EU to be dismantled and at the same time benefit from a generous salary and expense allowances. Nigel needs to do the honourable thing – he cannot spend years complaining about the Brussels gravy train and stay on it.” Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Farage intends to do.

Besides Nigel, let’s not forget people like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. Their failure to accept responsibility is as disappointing as that of Nigel Farage. None of this is of course a surprise. I knew from the beginning onwards that neither of the three were willing to carry the burden of implementing the vote of the British people.

What I am surprised about though is that we don’t hear anything from Leave-voters, those that thought that the NHS would get 350 million pounds more per week if the UK left the EU, those that believed that the UK could just end European migration with a snap of a finger. Why are we not hearing from them?

It’s obvious that they have been misled and lied to by people like Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. Most of the claims made during the campaign were taken back quickly, within days, and quickly afterwards, the main protagonists are leaving the stage and nobody stops them from doing so.

If I was a Leave-voter, I would be really angry these days. I would feel fooled and used by people who obviously were not interested in the fate of the British people but only in their own careers. But Leave-voters seem to not bother. I googled around a bit and found an interesting entry on Quora. On the question whether Brexit voters felt betrayed now that Farage and Johnson have resigned, user Alex Higgins had an easy answer: “No. Farage is a national hero who has restored Britain’s freedom. Johnson was stabbed in the back by his ex-friend Gove and left with no option but to withdraw. Very simple really.”

If this is what Leave-voters think (I still haven’t met a single one of them, elitist me), then there is only one conclusion one can draw: A large part of the population in this country does not mind if they are being lied to.

In a democracy, we get the politicians and the government we deserve. This seems to be especially true for today’s Britain.