UK-BRITAIN: What Brexit Did to Boris Johnson — And Britain – Opinion

The prime minister’s fake populism led to his undoing—and will keep haunting his country. 

By Anne Applebaum | The Atlantic

Not too long ago, I heard one of the leading Brexiteers describe his political philosophy in a room full of CEOs and senior politicians. He started by talking to this elite group about the great division between “elites” and “the people”, the victors and the victims of globalization, the haves and the have-nots of modernity. The longer he spoke, the more his words began to seem rote, remote, and stale. The energizing slogans of the Brexit campaign of 2016 sounded hollow and clich​​éd in 2022. 

PARTLY, this is because the slogans were NOT true. Boris Johnson was the standout example of this phenomenon:            

Johnson attended Eton and Oxford – just as in America, where all of the loudest “anti-elitists” seem to have gone to Yale or Harvard Law School – and his campaign was paid for by hedge-fund managers and billionaires.

Globalization was indeed bad for some people and good for others, but those groups didn’t split neatly along a rural-urban or rich-poor divide, or along any other easily defined demographic line. Some farmers in the distant countryside turned out to be huge beneficiaries of Britain’s European Union membership. Some of the least-well-off Britons benefited from foreign investment. Besides, many of the people loudly attacking the “elite” were not actually among globalization’s losers themselves. 

More importantly, Brexit, the solution to the problem Johnson and his supporters described, was based on a series of lies. The electorate was promised that departure from the EU would lead not only to fewer immigrants but to greater prosperity, more welfare spending, less crowded hospitals. Instead, six years after the vote, Britain is less prosperous and more unequal. Brexit reduced the U.K. GDP by at least 1.5 percent even before it took full effect; the U.K. has the highest inflation rate in the G7; small businesses, especially importers, have been crushed by Brexit-related red tape and supply-chain problems. Though committees have been set up to look for “benefits from Brexit”, few are available. Brexiteers instead crow about the British vaccine campaign or British support for Ukraine, both of which would have been perfectly compatible with EU membership.

Of course, Brexit is not why Johnson has now resigned, or why his cabinet melted down, or why his popularity plunged. But it is an essential piece of the backstory. If British politics were a Faulkner novel, Brexit would be the long-ago tragedy that haunts all of the main characters, even if they hadn’t been born when it happened.

Why did a story about a jolly drinking session his cabinet held during COVID lockdown do so much damage to Johnson? Partly because he was already suspected of dishonesty about Brexit, and “Partygate” reconfirmed the image of him as a liar.

Why did his Conservative colleagues ultimately decide not to remove him as prime minister when they voted last month? Partly because Johnson is so closely associated with Brexit that a rejection of him looked like a rejection of Brexit, the policy that the party still claims as its greatest achievement.

Why are Conservative and Labour politicians alike shocked by his admission that he met a former KGB officer, now a wealthy oligarch, at a private party in Italy while he was still foreign secretary, with no other officials present? Partly because the role of Russian money and influence in the Brexit campaign has never been fully explained. 

No one will claim that Brexit is the reason the Conservative Party has just lost two by-elections and crowds at the Queen’s jubilee service booed Johnson when he arrived at the church. But Johnson’s perceived dishonesty is a by-product of Brexit. The Tories’ perceived failure to keep economic promises is a by-product of Brexit. The flailing economy itself is a partial by-product of Brexit. All of these things hover in the background, whether the Tories want to admit it or not. 

None of this is necessarily good for the Conservative Party’s opponents. If Britain follows the pattern of other countries, then the failure of Tory populism might not lead the public back to some kind of predictable centrism. In Italy, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi — a kind of proto-Johnson who did and said outrageous things — kept the public’s attention for years but achieved very little real reform. After he left office, many Italian voters did not want to elect sober politicians who told them what the real, hard choices were. Instead, the failure of populism led them to the far left and the far right, to the eccentric Five Star Movement, to the pro-Russian leader Matteo Salvini, or to the Brothers of Italy, a party directly descended from disgruntled postwar supporters of Mussolini. As in the United States, the electoral system in Britain restricts the range of options presented to voters. But it doesn’t prevent people from feeling a greater sense of alienation from politics and politicians than ever before.

Because we are talking about Westminster, not Washington, it’s extremely unlikely, indeed unimaginable, that Johnson will now stage a coup, encourage a violent march on the House of Commons, or support the public hanging of the chancellor of the exchequer. But Johnson has already broken many unwritten rules, and possibly some written ones as well. British norms and traditions — you don’t lie in Parliament, for example — grow weaker every day that he remains in Downing Street. Johnson’s appointees have deliberately chipped away at nonpartisan institutions, such as the judiciary and the BBC, undermining the few areas of national unity and agreement that remain.

These officials did so because they, too, were products of Brexit. No previous Conservative government would have allowed many of these mediocrities in the cabinet at all. Public loyalty to Johnson and to the lies he told are what got them their job, whether they originally believed in Brexit or not. Now we can watch them jump ship. Soon enough, they’ll no doubt swear an equally passionate loyalty to someone and something else.

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  • Clyde Duncan  On 07/08/2022 at 5:02 pm


    Why Lindsey Graham, Kevin McCarthy, and so many other cowards in Congress are still doing Trump’s bidding

    By Mark Leibovich | The Atlantic

    When he wasn’t melting down over how “very badly” he was treated or acting like a seditious lunatic, Donald Trump could be downright serene in certain Washington settings — and never more so than when he would swan in for dinner at the Trump International Hotel, a few blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House and the only other place where he would ever agree to eat.

    UNLIKE THE OBAMAS, who would sneak out for date nights at trendy restaurants, Trump was hardly discreet when he went out to dinner — like catching Cinderella at the castle, or Hefner at the mansion.

    I never found Donald Trump to be remotely captivating as a stand-alone figure. He’d been around forever and his political act was largely derivative. His promise to “drain the swamp” was treated as some genius coinage, though in fact the platitude had been worn out for decades by both parties. Nancy Pelosi promised to “drain the swamp” in 2006, just as the Reagan-Bush campaign had vowed to “Make America Great Again” in 1980.

    Trump said and did obviously awful and dangerous things — racist and cruel and achingly dumb and downright evil things. But on top of that, he is a uniquely tiresome individual, easily the sorest loser, the most prodigious liar, and the most interminable victim ever to occupy the White House. He is, quite possibly, the biggest crybaby ever to toddle across history’s stage, from his inaugural-crowd hemorrhage on day one right down to his bitter, ketchup-flinging end.

    Seriously, what public figure in the history of the world comes close? I’m genuinely asking.

    The GOP’s shame, ongoing, is underscored by the handful of brave Republicans willing to speak the truth about Trump in public, before the January 6 committee and on the panel itself. The question now is whether they have any hope of wresting some admirable remnant of their party back from Trump’s abyss before he wins the Republican nomination for president in 2024 or, yes, winds up back in the White House.

    CONSIDER AGAIN THE DOORMAT DUO — McCarthy and Graham. If Trump had one well-developed intuition, IT WAS HIS ABILITY TO SNIFF OUT WEAKNESS IN PEOPLE — and, I suppose, in major political parties. Nearly all elected Republicans in Washington needed Trump’s blessing, and voters, to remain there. People like McCarthy and Graham benefited a great deal from making it work with Trump, or “managing the relationship”, as they say.

    McCarthy knew that alienating Trump would blow up any chance he had of becoming speaker, which had become the singular objective of his “public service”, such as it was. He cultivated Trump from the start. The president came to refer to McCarthy as “my Kevin”, a term of ownership as much as affection. But “managing the relationship” was often a daily struggle, McCarthy conceded, when I interviewed him for The New York Times in his Bakersfield, California, district in April 2021. “He goes up and down with his anger,” McCarthy said of Trump. “He’s mad at everybody one day. He’s mad at me one day … This is the tightest tightrope anyone has to walk.”

    Once, early in 2019, I asked Graham a version of the question that so many of his judgy old Washington friends had been asking him. How could he swing from being one of Trump’s most merciless critics in 2016 to such a sycophant thereafter? I didn’t use those exact words, but Graham got the idea. “Well, okay, from my point of view, if you know anything about me, it’d be odd not to do this,” he told me. “‘This,’” Graham specified, “is to try to be relevant.” RELEVANCE: It casts one hell of a spell.

    What would you do to stay relevant? That’s always been a definitional question for D.C.’s prime movers, especially the super-thirsty likes of McCarthy and Graham. If they’d never stooped this low before, MAYBE IT’S JUST BECAUSE NO ONE EVER ASKED THEM TO.

    “My legacy doesn’t matter,” Trump told his longtime aide Hope Hicks a few days after the 2020 election, according to an account in Peril, by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. “If I lose, that will be my legacy.” This became the essential ethos of Republican nihilism. By lashing themselves so tightly to Trump, Republicans could act as if the president’s impunity and shamelessness extended to them. His strut of cavalier disregard became their own.

    Graham was always saying how important it was to “GET THE JOKE” about Trump. “Getting the joke” is a timeworn Washington expression, referring to a person’s ability to grasp a shared truth about something best left unspoken. In the case of Trump, the “joke” was that he was, at best, not a serious person or a good president and, at worst, a dangerous and potentially criminal jackass.

    “OH, EVERYBODY GETS THE JOKE,” Mitt Romney assured me in early 2022 when I asked him if Senate Republicans really believed what they said in public about how wonderful Trump was. “They still are very aware of his, uh, what’s a good word, idiosyncrasies.”

    “Lindsey was really good at this game,” one senior Trump White House official marveled to me. Graham played Trump like a nine iron. He could also be stunningly open about how easy it was. There was an art to influencing Trump, Graham explained to me. “If you flatter him all the time, he’ll lose respect for you.”

    If Graham wanted Trump to do something, especially on foreign policy, HE WOULD JUST TELL HIM THAT OBAMA WOULD DO THE OPPOSITE. That “can be very effective,” Graham told me. “Obama drives him nuts.”

    No one expected Trump to depart the presidency with any particular grace or statesmanship or other loser things like that. In the weeks after the election, his caseworkers had preached patience. “Give it time,” Graham kept telling people. He knew Trump had lost. He was just giving Trump the “space” he needed to come to grips with it. Likewise, Kevin McCarthy explained to squeamish colleagues that by echoing the president’s stolen-election claims on TV, he was merely trying to “manage” Trump until the defeated president could accept reality – always a shaky proposition.

    But really, January 6 had to be the end of the line for Trump, right? Surely, this would be the moment when the fever broke. “Trump and I, we had a hell of a journey,” Graham said in a floor speech late that night. “But today all I can say is count me out. Enough is enough. I tried to be helpful.” His colleagues applauded, and the clip was played over and over, to illustrate the “good riddance” vibe of the moment. McCarthy told people he was going to ask Trump to resign.

    Trump felt that McCarthy had not been “nice” to him on January 6, when the minority leader called the president to nudge him about those annoying supporters of his who kept pillaging through the Capitol with nooses and clubs. Not civil! “The relationship,” McCarthy determined, required some tending to.

    So, there they were, Donald and his Kevin, side by side again, reunited and it felt so good. In the photo that shot across social media, the old besties held the same clenched smiles and seemed to both be sucking in their tummies like bros of a certain age do.

    “McCarthy started all of that,” Liz Cheney told me last summer. She’d had no advance warning of McCarthy’s visit to Palm Beach, and was stunned when she saw the photos. She confronted McCarthy: Why? She told me he explained that “the Republican Party was changing, and they all had to adapt. It was no longer the party of Dick Cheney.” This did not go over well.

    “When we look back, Kevin’s trip to Mar-a-Lago will, I think, turn out to be a key moment,” Cheney told me when we talked again this April. It would, she said, go down as one of the most shameful episodes in one of the country’s most shameful chapters. More than anyone, McCarthy ensured that the Republican Party would remain stuck in its 2020 post-election purgatory, still working to placate America’s neediest man.

    Meanwhile, the number of elected Republicans willing to explicitly rule out voting for Trump remains tiny. Liz Cheney, again, has proved a towering exception. She says she will do everything in her power to prevent his return. She might be the foremost scourge in Trumpworld and could very well lose her Republican primary in Wyoming. But outside of that loud and devoted domain, Cheney has become one of the most admired leaders in America. She recently delivered speeches at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley and the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, receiving standing ovations in both venues and a Profile in Courage Award in the latter.

    But it’s fun to make McCarthy squirm, so I asked him if he thought Trump would run again. He flashed me a look — not a nice one.

    “I think he’ll talk about it,” McCarthy said, finally. “I don’t think he’ll make that decision until later.”

    Did McCarthy want Trump to run? His look got even dirtier. “I think it’s a long way away,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of stuff that’s gonna happen prior to that.”

    McCarthy will not be winning any Profile in Courage Award anytime soon. In fairness, that could make him a good fit for the cowardly caucus he is so eager to lead.

    Soon enough, 2024 will not be a long way away, and Trump is well positioned to claim his third consecutive Republican presidential nomination. Again, Trump will do as he pleases and take what he can take. Because really, who’s going to stop him?

    This essay is adapted from the forthcoming book Thank You for Your Servitude: Donald Trump’s Washington and the Price of Submission.

  • wally n  On 07/08/2022 at 6:14 pm

    and he is back…big time good

  • Clyde Duncan  On 07/08/2022 at 8:56 pm

    This Good Man

    Lucian K. Truscott IV

    The only thing Boris Johnson didn’t do in his desperate attempt to cling to power that finally failed this week was unleash a mob of armed Brexiteers on Parliament. He did everything else:

    He acted as if the rules that applied to everyone else didn’t apply to him. He was contemptuous of facts and spewed lies as if exhaling them were as natural as breathing. He sacrificed everything and everyone in a single cause: HIMSELF.

    His party didn’t matter. His friends were forgotten. His political allies were expendable.

    All the pundits this week echoed the same refrain: Sound like anyone we know?

    Half of them celebrated the parliamentary system’s ability to expel poison from its system, and the other half reached back to Watergate to celebrate the time our system worked in something of the same way.

    All of them, of course, were obsessed with the two “bad boys” as Boris Johnson and Donald Trump have been referred to so many, many times.

    Ignored in all the backslapping has been this good man, JOE BIDEN, the president we elected by a wide margin of both the popular and electoral vote in 2020. What was Joe Biden doing while Boris Johnson was dissembling yet again and Trump was readying himself for a trip to the political hustings for yet another of his insane white supremacist rallies?

    JOE BIDEN was speaking at the White House about a 10 year old girl who was raped in Ohio, but because she was six weeks plus three days pregnant with the rapist’s child, had to travel to another state to get an abortion.

    “She was forced to have to travel out of the state to Indiana to seek to terminate the pregnancy and maybe save her life,” Biden said at the White House. “Ten years old — 10 years old! — raped, six weeks pregnant, already traumatized, was forced to travel to another state.”

    The Washington Post reported that Biden “grew visibly upset” as he lamented that a 10 year old girl “should not be forced to give birth to a rapist’s child.”

    When was the last time you ever heard or saw Donald Trump get “visibly upset” about anything other than his loss of the election of 2020? Oh, excuse me.

    There have been reports of his club-throwing tantrums on the golf course when he has missed a shot, although never when he lost a game, because Donald Trump hasn’t lost any golf games.

    Joe Biden and his calm, sure leadership of not only this country but the western world since Vladimir Putin attacked Ukraine has gotten lost in the political brouhaha about idiots like Trump and Boris Johnson and even pip-squeaks like Ron DeSantis, who has been busy trying to make his mark by picking fights with the Walt Disney company over their gay-friendly politics and his “don’t say gay” law in Florida.

    I had to physically resist the temptation to type a half-dozen exclamation points at the end of that last sentence. The world is at war in Europe for the first time in three quarters of a century, the American west is once again ablaze in fires caused by climate change, the Supreme Court just ended the right of women to choose to get an abortion, and Ron DeSantis is trying to make a name for himself by picking teeny-tiny little fights over what children should be taught about human sexuality?

    Anytime Washington political reporters find themselves with nothing better to do they crank out a piece on dissention among Democrats about how Biden isn’t doing enough about this or he’s doing too much about that or he’s not forceful enough or his age or even a Bidenism he uttered while speaking somewhere about something. It’s politics as usual, of course, but given what we are facing as a country, it stinks.

    We should thank our lucky stars every single day that enough of us came out and voted for him in 2020, and we should work like hell to make sure it happens again. Nobody is writing about Joe Biden’s goodness as a man and a president.

    Well, I am.

  • Clyde Duncan  On 07/09/2022 at 5:19 am

    I’m Beginning To Fear That Brexit Will Be Crushed

    Ultra-Remainers are on the war path, and this Tory chaos is giving their case a new lease of life

    Sherelle Jacobs | The Telegraph

    “Know thyself, know thy enemies. A thousand battles, a thousand victories”. So goes the warning of the ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu. With the implosion of Boris Johnson, the Brexit war threatens to start anew. Tory Leavers must accept their vulnerability. The Prime Minister who ended the last battle by getting a Brexit deal done has just fallen in ignominious circumstances.

    Meanwhile, Remainers – who will never give up the fight – scent weakness.

    While Andrew Adonis rallies against a “revolution which devours its children”, Michael Heseltine has declared that “IF BORIS GOES, BREXIT GOES”. It might be tempting to dismiss all this as the hopeful rantings of bitter men. After all, Sir Keir Starmer has been at pains to reassure voters in recent days that Labour will not take Britain back into the European Union.

    But even if the leader of the Opposition – a Remainer who voted six times against a Brexit deal – is genuine, he is powerless to stop the rejuvenation of the Remainer campaign. As support for Brexit in the polls has seeped away in recent months, in part because of the chaos that has gripped the Government, ultra-Remainers have been on manoeuvres. With the fall of Johnson, they think their time has almost come.

    Over the next two years, they will likely proceed with a calculated mixture of boldness and caution. Already the public is being relentlessly bombarded with misinformation, which erroneously links every ill facing Britain with the decision to leave the EU. As the Tory party is distracted by internal dramas, negative Brexit sentiment will mount. This is already starting to happen, as critics in the business world become blunter in their criticisms – from the aviation industry to the CBI.

    Meanwhile, some Tory MPs have been discreetly arguing in favour of a softer Brexit. Indeed, while the removal of the PM was by no means a Remainer plot, some of his internal enemies were motivated by a desire for greater alignment with EU rules – or at least by their opposition to what they consider to be an excessively aggressive attitude towards fixing the Northern Ireland protocol.

    There is also the small matter of Boris Johnson himself. He is not just yet another defenestrated Conservative prime minister. JOHNSON IS THE FALLEN BREXIT SAVIOUR. His re-negotiation of Theresa May’s deal, in defiance of his critics, invested him with a heroic mythos.

    IN TRUTH, CONSERVATIVE FEALTY TO THE BREXIT CAUSE HAS BEEN DISINTEGRATING EVEN UNDER BORIS JOHNSON, as the Blob has sapped the Government’s will. HMRC’s upgrade of its UK customs system has been a shambles. The country continues to emulate EU regulations on everything from food to carbon border taxes. Whitehall has also become bolder in its resistance to Government directives. Big business seems to be on the war path against regulatory reforms that would increase competition, such as those floated for the chemical substance sector. Northern Ireland remains a running sore.

    THE GREAT FEAR IS THAT THE TORY PARTY NOW ELECTS A CLOSET REMAINER WHO DOES NOT HAVE THE CONVICTION TO TAKE ALL THIS ON. That Brexit dies with a whimper, smothered by bureaucratic inertia and then finally strangled after the next election. If Brexiteers want to avoid this fate, they must think like war strategists once again. That means confronting the extent of their current weakness, and taking their opponents seriously.

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