BoJo the Clown (with Arthur Snell)
Boris Johnson and acts of dis-union.
He’s an unserious fellow with a ridiculous head of hair that he nevertheless fusses over. He’s good on TV. He cavorts with Russians, some of them intelligence officers. He achieved his popularity by repeating Kremlin talking points, sowing discord, and lying egregiously. He bungled his country’s pandemic response. He irked his European allies. He went to extraordinary parliamentary lengths to ram his agenda through. He is almost single-handedly responsible for weakening a nation that used to be the most powerful on earth to the point that it might fracture into parts. And if it means keeping himself in power, he’s more than willing to stoke violence at the border.
While there are many similarities to Donald John Trump, I’m speaking here of Boris Johnson—Prime Minister of Great Britain and prime mover in the successful Russian op known as BREXIT. Then mayor of London, Johnson was one of the loudest “Leave” proponents during the run-up to that ill-fated referendum vote. As Prime Minister, he hasn’t backtracked, despite the insurmountable evidence that BREXIT is an unmitigated disaster.
By removing itself from the European Union, Britain has cut off its nose to spite its face—or, rather, cut off its face to spite its nose. It’s possible that Scotland could eventually bail and join the E.U. Same with Northern Ireland. In the ultimate fallout from BREXIT, the Britain that remains may well be no larger than the territory ruled by King Æthelstan in 927 CE.
Michigan is almost the same exact size as the United Kingdom; now imagine if Michigan declared independence but the Upper Peninsula chose to remain part of the United States. It would be a small, remote country dwarfed by its powerful neighbor—like a lesser moon of Jupiter.
“The analogy of where Britain is in relation to the European Union is something like… the Bahamas in relation to the USA, where a medium-sized country [is] next to a huge economy,” explains Arthur Snell, the former British diplomat and host of the new podcast Doomsday Watch, on today’s episode of PREVAIL. “Actually, if you take the E.U. as a single object, it’s the largest economy in the world, right, the largest trading area. . . And so BREXIT is never going to be done, because we are always, as a country, going to be trying to manage what is a very complex relationship with a hugely important trading partner. And it is not helped by the fact that, basically, Britain left the E.U. on terms that are economically dysfunctional.”
Already there are obvious negative consequences of BREXIT. Those pictures circulating on American social media pages of empty shelves at the grocery store, that are supposed to hit at Biden? Yeah, those were taken in Britain. There are legitimate shortages there—of food, of consumer goods, of gasoline. And it’s not due to some globalist supply-chain disruption conspiracy, but because there are not enough truck drivers to transport the stuff from Point A to Point B.
Anti-immigrant sentiment undoubtedly helped the LEAVE campaign; now Britain is feeling its consequences. As Alabama found out a few years ago, it’s unwise to ban immigrants when your economy depends on their labor—no matter what Eric Clapton might think.
“Britain, not dissimilar to the U.S.—a lot of its economy relies on immigrant labor,” Snell says, “and we’ve closed off the European Union as a source of immigrant labor. And of course the European Union encompasses some relatively poor countries, countries like Romania, countries like Bulgaria—the kind of place where if you are a truck driver and you come to the U.K., you can make a very good living. Those people have gone. So who’s driving the trucks? Well, that’s the problem right now. So we have created this dysfunctional situation in our own economy.”
Worst of all, Johnson is stirring shit up in Northern Ireland, which, après BREXIT, has the United Kingdom’s lone land border with the E.U. “The trade agreement that we have now with the E.U. is not analogous to NAFTA,” Snell explains. “Trucks cannot come and go in a straightforward way that you would expect over that border. And so that creates all kinds of tensions.”
The last thing Northern Ireland needs is more tensions. Long a flashpoint of political violence, the region has been quiet for decades. No longer. “I’m sorry to say that Boris Johnson’s government has weaponized that,” Snell says, “in a way that I find incredibly cynical.” Basically, Johnson has determined that increasing tensions in the border area can be used as a bargaining chip to get a better trade deal from the European Union, which is understandably uneager to play ball. “But they themselves are fomenting this,” Snell says, “by playing up the problems.”
Despite his obvious failures, Johnson remains a popular figure. He enjoys strong political support in Parliament. And there is no obvious alternative. The head of the opposition Labour party, Keir Starmer, is a stand-up guy, but not a natural politician. There likely won’t be another election for two years, and even then, Johnson might hold on to the job.
On the other hand, if a dark horse candidate should emerge and win over Parliament, Johnson would likely not refuse to leave, like Bibi Netanyahu, or insist that the election was rigged, like Trump. “I don’t think he’s as cynical as Trump,” Snell says. “I think he’s the kind of person that can walk away from something and say, ‘Well, I don’t care anyway.’ Whereas you get the sense with Trump [that] he can’t give up. He has to run again in 2024 because he can’t believe that it’s possible that he couldn’t win the election.”
Johnson also seems a bit more flexible than Trump. When President Biden met with him earlier this year, the Prime Minister was supportive. Certainly Johnson wasn’t laughing at him behind his back, as he was with the Former Guy.
In the meantime, the Trump of Britain remains a popular if polarizing figure. “For me, I find it impossible to see what the appeal is,” Snell says. “But yeah, some people think he’s amazing.”
Greg Olear talks to Arthur Snell—former British diplomat, current executive at Orbis Business Intelligence, and host of the excellent new podcast DOOMSDAY WATCH— about his new project, the Second Civil War in the U.S., the rise of autocracy in Xi’s China, BREXIT and Boris Johnson, and the British royal family. Plus: a sneak peek at next week’s “Succession.”
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Photo credit: 09/09/2020. London, United Kingdom. Boris Johnson leaving for PMQ's. The Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaving No10 Downing Street for PMQ’s in the House of Commons. Picture by Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street.