Boris Johnson's self-serving discourse will self-destruct

MENWER MASALMEH
Published 31.07.2019 00:49

Now here we are with Boris Johnson declared as the new prime minister of the U.K. after an easy win of around two-thirds of Conservative votes in a tepid leadership contest. Yet, it wasn't so for Johnson, who is basking in the glory of being the clear winner in all rounds of the contest. Will such a sweeping victory for a politician who dredges up his language and vision from a bailiwick of classics nourish his ego by being a leader of necessity or nudge his childhood memories of becoming a world king.

During World War II, Johnson saw the "Churchill Factor" as what stopped the dictatorship in Europe. In the time of Brexit, he sees himself as the "Johnson Factor" that will snatch the U.K.'s democracy from Brussels' dictations.

Familiar with the EU

Johnson kept a close eye on Brussels from the very beginning as The Telegraph's correspondent to the EU in the Berlaymont building. His scathing reporting on the EU's single-market policy has been politicized and employed by Brexiteers as early euroskeptic materials that exposed European encroachment on the U.K.'s sovereignty.

Despite warnings of economic rebounds that could severely affect the U.K. following its detachment from the EU, Brexiteers have ignored the warnings and fabricated reports claiming the opposite, like Johnson's 350 million pounds ($426.2 million) going weekly to the EU. The focal point of Brexit's manifesto was sovereignty. This tone becomes the loudest with the high surge of populism sweeping the world in the last decade.

Being from the conservative elite, immune to the economic shrink and overstuffed with the grandeur of the empire, it would be a shame to see Belgium, the country recognized as an independent state from the Netherlands kingdom at the London Conference of 1830 in keeping with the U.K.'s interests, is now the place where laws and rules are being issued for the 28 countries of the EU.

In dealing with Europe, retrieving our sovereignty is first and other issues come later. That is the message Johnson wants to deliver to his base in the Conservative Party; hence his stress on Oct. 31 being the exit day, with or without a deal, with the motto of "do or die."

Yet, will the U.K.'s sovereignty and democracy be protected by hard-line Brexiteers and Boris Johnson? Boris's words and deeds don't wash.

To say that Brexit restored Parliament's role from Brussels is a claim that Brexiteers might be able to boast about but it doesn't make sense when calling for proroguing Parliament to force through a "no-deal" Brexit.

Prior to Johnson's clear adoption of the proroguing likelihood, Dominic Raab, a leadership hopeful eliminated in the early stages of the vote by members of Parliament, posed the choice and was attacked by his rivals. Sajid Javid replied: "You don't deliver democracy by trashing democracy. We are not selecting a dictator," and Michel Gove as well said: "I will defend our democracy. You cannot take Britain out of the EU against the will of Parliament." Ironically, both of these people, in addition to Raab, are now in Boris's Cabinet that may prorogue Parliament!

If it could be argued that the Brexit referendum was a choice of the British people, and so is Parliament, not to mention that it's the symbolic body of the nation's sovereignty over itself. Let's not blur the discussion by saying a no-deal Brexit and a Parliament suspension is the execution of the people's will. No, people voted for Brexit, not for a no-deal Brexit, for the choice not for the modality.

Moreover, sovereignty is measured by the extent of the independence of the state's policy and decision-making process. The more balanced the international relations, the more sovereignty a state wields. It is a very simple yet significant rule that Johnson has been unable to grasp, or simply doesn't put into practice. On one hand he wears a gauntlet for the EU, jeopardizing stable relations with this heavyweight approach, and a kid glove in the other for the U.S. – namely for President Donald Trump.

The case of Kim Darroch, the resigning U.K. ambassador to the U.S., is a good example of that. No one knows better than Darroch himself how harmful it is to diplomacy and the sovereignty of a state to not have its officers' backs, instead appeasing an "inept, insecure and incompetent" president of another state.

In Trump's footsteps

Johnson has put all his eggs in Trump's basket, coveting a trade agreement between the two countries. Such betting, of course, will keep the U.K. prone to Trump's blackmail, and he is a man who masters this game.

To fulfill his "America first" approach, he imposed tariffs on most imported goods from the U.S.' traditional allies in Europe as well as on Japan and Canada to forge new bilateral agreements that benefit the U.S. The approach worked well with Canada and Mexico which signed a new deal in May 2019.

He blackmailed South Korea and Japan with U.S. military protection treaties and is doing the same with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. That is the "ally" that Johnson is assiduous to appease. Populist leaders are untrustworthy.

The new prime minister topped the secretary of state for foreign affairs for two years after the Brexit referendum, which was an opportunity for a person who spearheaded the "leave" campaign to navigate through new relations with new countries.

Once again, wide international relations are a guarantor of immune state sovereignty, but there was nothing accomplished for Johnson to exhibit pride or boast about in his bid to the premiership for which, instead, he serenaded "do or die."

Alan Duncan, a foreign office minister who resigned in protest at the prospect of Johnson winning, has experienced working with Johnson and described it as: "Cleaning up after him was quite a full-time activity."

During Johnson's stint as foreign secretary, the U.K.'s sovereignty had flagrantly been violated by Israel. As revealed in Al-Jazeera investigations, a senior officer in the Israeli Embassy in London was plotting to take down politicians and harm democracy.

One would expect a furious reaction from a classist politician annoyed at "Brussels bureaucrats" for enforcing new standards on Kipper smokers – which turned out to be the U.K.'s standards – but he threw cold water on those asking for disciplinary action against the embassy and considered the matter closed. With Johnson, sovereignty sensitivity is really just cherry-picking.

Moreover, with his Cabinet declared, former International Trade Secretary Priti Patel, who was forced to resign from Theresa May's government over the scandal of secret meetings she held with Israeli officials, has been given the post of home secretary.

Populism is here to stay

One more thing to keep in mind when discussing Johnson's honesty about his national discourse is his relationship with populism. I don't mean here Johnson's populism as a discourse that overstates the superiority of the nation and the importance of its sovereignty in the face of globalization's intrusion but his involvement in and cooperation with populist groups around the world that may come at the expense of his own country.

Johnson's exchange, for instance, with Steve Bannon, the far-right activist and Trump's former chief adviser, over his resignation speech as foreign secretary draws doubts about their roles in casting states' policies. In that case, shouldn't Boris Johnson replace what he called "Brussels bureaucrats' intrusions" with "populists' chaotic interventions?"

In his spirited maiden speech as prime minister, Johnson pledged a brighter future for the country and to unite British people polarized by the irresponsible and unrealistic takes of politicians. To achieve that, he needs to compromise with what we can call now the less-hard Conservative Brexiteers, the other parties in the opposition and the wider European neighborhood.

His dishonest and populist discourse got him the premiership but may tear his government apart as he takes office with his party's election not a general election, which means he doesn't have full legitimacy, which brings to mind Theresa May's general election call in 2017 to gain this legitimacy, which failed.

Otherwise, the U.K. will face a hot summer with hard scenarios of Parliament suspension that may entail judiciary action, voting down the government, continuous protests and/or a harsh-break Brexit with serious economic, political and social consequences.

* U.K.-based Palestinian journalist

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