27 July 2019

Is Boris Britain’s Trump?


Is our Prime Minister really a home-grown version of Donald Trump?

It’s not just Boris Johnson’s political adversaries making the comparison – earlier this week the US President himself claimed that the new PM was ‘Britain [‘s] Trump’.

Both men are bombastic, neither is overly encumbered by political correctness and – crucially- both have funny blond hair.

But in truth, this is just another example of false equivalence – If Trump equals Brexit, then so must Trump equal Johnson, the talisman of the Leave campaign.

It’s also a fine example of the Boris Derangement Syndrome (to steal a line from my colleague Robert Colvile), that has gripped some parts of the media and political establishment. Witness one Corbynista journalist this week referring to this as a “far-right” government, without any apparent hint of irony.

Yet in temperament, style and, most importantly, political views the two men are poles apart. Whatever his idiosyncracies, Johnson has none of Trump’s mixture of machismo, malice or pettiness – witness his willingness to bring Michael Gove into his team, for instance.

On immigration, the topic that so enrages Trump’s critics, Johnson is also of a far more liberal bent, advocating a points-based system for new arrivals and even raising the possibility of an amnesty for undocumented migrants in the UK.

What’s more, if the Johnson project is about anything, it’s seeing off the British politician who really is quite like Donald Trump – Nigel Farage. (The fact that the President himself has proposed a Boris-Nigel double-act to see through Brexit merely betrays how little he knows about British politics.)

If there is a tactical similarity between Trump and Johnson, it’s the flurry of announcements that have accompanied his first days in office, with both men wanting to present a sense of change and dynamism.

However, as former May adviser Tom Swarbrick pointed out on CapX earlier this week, energy alone will not be enough to get through the policies he wants to enact. That may well be why Johnson has brought in Dominic Cummings in a chief executive-style role in Downing St.

The appointments to Cabinet this week, though not quite as Brexit-y as some pundits have implied, make clear Team Johnson’s basic strategy. To get Britain out of the EU, hoover up Brexit Party defectors and thump Jeremy Corbyn in an ensuing general election. Understandably, it’s a team put together with that coming battle in mind.

Similarly, the opening flurry of spending promises – 20,000 extra police and more money for schools – is geared to spike Labour’s guns if there is to be an election later this year.

And for all that Johnson’s sunny disposition, belief in the country and tone of optimism are a welcome tonal shift from the dour days of May, the time for mood-setting can only last so long before his government is confronted with some pretty tricky decisions.

The fact Johnson has predicated a deal on the removal of the Irish Backstop is a sign of the renewed seriousness with which he is preparing for leaving without one. One of the many criticisms of Theresa May was that while she talked a good game on No Deal, nobody seriously thought she would ever follow through with it.

Indeed, where Trump prides himself on being a man who gets deals done, Boris’ biggest decision may be not to do one at all.

John Ashmore is Acting Editor of CapX