Commentators and politicians around the world have often compared British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to US President Donald Trump, noting their shared easy-going relationship with the truth and populist and nativist leanings. The perceived similarities between the two leaders even turned out to be a rare point of consensus among candidates in the recent US presidential election: President-elect Joe Biden reportedly described Johnson as Trump’s “physical and emotional clone” while Trump publicly referred to Johnson as “Britain Trump” designated. ”
The US election – according to this school of thought and (quickly disputed) media reports of “panic” on Downing Street – was a disaster for Johnson, who, it is believed, will lose a key ally and allied ideological spirit on the world stage. It is certainly true that Johnson and Trump share some common traits and interests. Trump enthusiastically supported Brexit, of which Johnson was the key architect, and they tried to build a warm, human relationship.
However, my research into Johnson’s career as a journalist and politician suggests that he is not a natural ally of Trump. Before Trump became president, Johnson attacked him as unfit to take office, and Johnson recently condemned him again for promoting the Capitol insurgency. And in his previous newspaper columns and public statements, Johnson, who was himself born in the United States and held an American passport until he gave it up possibly for tax reasons in 2016, has repeatedly praised the Liberals and sought to join him in presiding over the United States positioned as a reliable, involved pillar of the global democratic order: presidents, in other words, who are far more like Biden than Trump.
As I have reported elsewhere, Johnson has so often expressed awe of U.S. power and support for a conventional, strong Anglo-American relationship – in roles as varied as the right wing hack to the mayor of a large liberal city – . that they seem to be consistent beliefs. (“All my life,” he said last week while condemning the insurrection, “America has stood for some very important things, an idea of freedom and an idea of democracy.”) The same conclusion could be drawn for Johnson’s praise of internationalist presidents who he has consistently portrayed as the administrator of America’s international prestige.
Alternatively, Johnson’s earlier praise of Liberal presidents, and more recently Trump, could be cited as evidence of another widespread view of Johnson: that he has no beliefs at all – or at least none that he is unwilling to cast aside in a moment – and will simply say what he finds politically advantageous at any given time.
Johnson found the public role of former President Bill Clinton stark. He criticized Clinton’s “hideously false sincerity”, described his presidency as “ego-sexo-psycho-drama” and even wrote – in an extraordinary 1998 column for the Daily Telegraph, a conservative British newspaper Johnson worked for at the time – that “Many of us would be perfectly prepared to believe that he and Lady Macbeth (which means Hillary Clinton) were indeed Vince Foster,” the former White House assistant attorney who killed himself in 1993 and whose death was crucial to anti-Clinton Conspiracy mill since then.
So far, so Trumpian. But Johnson generally expressed support for Clinton’s policies, from his pursuit of balanced budgets domestically to his support for NATO expansion abroad. When Clinton proposed in 2000 that the European Union might one day accept Russia as a member, Johnson attributed an “exciting, profound and far-sighted” intervention and praised Clinton, albeit with humanitarian reservations, for his efforts in military action in the Balkans the 1990s, when the European heads of state and government only offered “dithering and appeasing”. (On a personal level, Johnson, himself a notorious Philander, also defended Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky: Judging Clinton for “enjoying” the sexual advantages of his power as Johnson occupied it would be “sniffing and short-sighted,” he said .)
In their biographies of Johnson, journalists Sonia Purnell and Andrew Gimson note that Johnson viewed Clinton as a kind of political role model. And in a 2007 interview with Piers Morgan for GQ magazine, Johnson wanted Clinton back to the White House. “The world was better run under him as President, there was a greater sense of optimism, the potential for harmony between different countries and religious groups,” said Johnson. “He represented America better and that is so important. I love America. “
Johnson initially admired former President George W. Bush, but saw him as a “blindfolded Texas warmonger” responsible for destroying America’s standing on the world stage. As Mayor of multicultural liberal London, Johnson supported Barack Obama as President in 2008 because he wrote in a column for the Telegraph that Obama “visibly embodied change and hope” and because he had a better chance than his Republican opponent. John McCain of Restoring America’s Global Reputation. Johnson also nodded to the historic symbolism of Obama’s candidacy. “If Obama wins,” Johnson wrote, “he will have found that blackness is as important to your ability to do a tough job as being left-handed or ginger hair, and he will have restored America’s claim to be the last.” ” best hope on earth. “
All of this liberal optimism would not survive Britain’s exit from the EU. In 2016, Johnson – then a leader of a Brexit campaign that willingly acted with inward, xenophobic nostalgia – hit a very different note in a column for right-wing tabloid The Sun that hosted Obama: dog whistles “Ancestral Dislike.” “Against British war leader Winston Churchill and the British Empire for being” part-Kenyan “- a remark that, according to recent reports, has not been forgotten by senior Democratic Party activists. (Full disclosure: I worked briefly on the campaign to keep the UK in the EU before becoming a journalist.)
The realities of Brexit – and Johnson’s responsibility for carrying it out – still complicate the relevance of his earlier statements about US presidents to his future relationship with Biden. Johnson was not just trying to build a warm relationship with Trump to provide moral support for Brexit. He was also looking for a quick post-Brexit trade pact with the United Statesboth as an economic and diplomatic boon in its own right, and before Britain signed a trade deal with the EU in December, as a lever for negotiations with the bloc.
The Obama administration made it clear that Britain would have to wait in line for a US deal. Biden has also strongly criticized Brexit in general and the associated threat to the peace agreement on the island of Ireland in particular. (Ultimately, the deal reached in December did nothing to change an original post-Brexit deal to maintain an open border between the UK and the EU. Johnson once threatened to abandon the deal, which cast doubt on the December deal.)
Still, Johnson and Trump clashed on key issues as well, including Trump’s trade war with China, and as numerous commentators have pointed out, Johnson appears to be far more in agreement with Johnson Biden on Iran and climate change, which is emerging as a foreign policy priority of the COP26 summit by the UK later this year. At least if they don’t agree, Johnson can count on Biden’s persistence – an advantage Trump never offered even alleged allies.
Biden can, of course, judge that he cannot rely on Johnson’s persistence. At least initially, the Biden government will be preoccupied with domestic political crises, and if he looks to Europe, he can take care of relations with Paris, Brussels and Berlin – the ringleaders of an influential alliance from which Britain has just decided to isolate itself – prioritize.
But Biden is unlikely to treat Johnson’s Britain as a Trump-spoiled pariah either. Whatever happens next, Johnson’s relationship with Biden isn’t inevitably broken down by his recent attachment to the outgoing president or alleged resemblance to him. At the very least, based on Johnson’s records, Brits and Americans can expect him to focus on what serves his interests, and if those interests happen to coincide with his long-standing pre-Trump views of U.S. internationalist foreign policy the better. He and Biden are no poles apart, even if they could hardly be described as each other’s clones.