UK Buckles Up for Ride with Unpredictable New PM

From Brexit to Scottish independence and escalating tension with Iran, Boris Johnson has his work cut out as PM. Has he got what it takes? asks Johanna Ross.

By Johanna Ross
in Edinburgh, Scotland

Special to Consortium News

With a mandate of only 0.2 percent of the British people, perhaps the most notorious and colorful candidate ever to be prime minister, Boris Johnson, defied all criticism to win 66 percent of the Tory party vote in the race to become party leader by beating out Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.  Johnson survived serious attempts to discredit him in the media, including a report on a domestic quarrel which sought to derail his campaign amid a barrage of attacks on his character and competency. It did not deter the Tory faithful who, believing staunchly in Brexit, have put their trust in BoJo to deliver.

Boris Johnson after winning election for prime minister. (YouTube)

Charisma and ambition have carried Boris through. In response to a Channel 4 journalist’s question regarding how long he had wanted to be PM, his father said even as a child he wanted to be “king of the world.” But ambition alone will not suffice. This is a man famed for his inaccuracies and for struggling to get his facts right when put on the spot. As one Guardian journalist put it: “I don’t understand how a man can be fired twice for cavalierly making stuff up and reach high office.” He has been called everything from the more endearing “clown” and “buffoon” to more serious accusations of being a “racist” and “liar.” It seems the general consensus is he would say or do anything to get to the top.

And yet on Wednesday, after being granted official permission from Her Majesty the Queen, Johnson became prime minister of the United Kingdom.

He comes to power at one of the most difficult and daunting periods of modern British history. The overwhelming task of negotiating Brexit and the complexities of the Irish border question, together with rising Scottish nationalism, means that he faces not only the challenge of exiting the EU, but of exiting the EU while maintaining the territorial integrity of the United Kingdom. As reported previously, it is no exaggeration to say the unity of Britain is under threat.

BoJo the clown. (YouTube)

The Scottish Question

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon could not have been more explicit in communicating this in an interview when she gave her reaction to Johnson’s election, emphasizing that support for independence had only been boosted by the prospect of a Johnson premiership. Citing a poll from a couple of weeks ago, which showed majority support for Scottish independence if Johnson were to become PM, Sturgeon said it was no surprise that Scots were increasingly wanting out of the Union. “Scotland faces Brexit which we didn’t vote for; we’ve got a Tory government at Westminster that we didn’t vote for and we certainly didn’t vote for Boris Johnson as Prime Minister,” she said.

The Scottish leader has never hidden her dislike for Johnson. Earlier this year she said in a BBC interview that he’d be a “disaster” as PM and raised concerns over the possible “damage” his leadership could do to the U.K. and to Scotland. It’s clear that she has widespread support for her views at home. A poll last month for the Sunday Times showed that while only 41 percent of Scots would back independence, with Johnson as leader it would increase to 53 percent. 

Indeed, according to Edinburgh-based academic Ailsa Henderson, a fifth of those who voted No in the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence said they would switch to Yes if Johnson became PM. Scottish National Party Deputy Leader Keith Brown said last month:  “Even without the nightmare scenario of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister a referendum would be too close to call – but if he wins, as expected, backing for independence is set to surge.”

Russian Roulette

In a BBC interview Sturgeon cited the disaster of Johnson’s time in the foreign office as a measure of what one could expect from his premiership. Indeed, one only has to remember his handling of the Skripal poisoning affair to gauge how Johnson may represent Britain on the world stage.

Headlines such “Boris Johnson accused of misleading the public over the Skripal case” tainted this period, as he was exposed by several news outlets for lying over what Porton Down (the U.K. chemical weapons laboratory) scientists had told him. The scientists maintained their position that they could not determine the source of the nerve agent that had affected the Skripals, but Johnson said in an interview with Deutsche Welle that he had been assured by Porton Down that it was Russia. 

The result was complete ambiguity, with comments such as “Serial liar Boris Johnson caught lying again?” taking up the Twittersphere. The commotion didn’t end there however, as the situation was exacerbated by a Johnson-led foreign office producing and then deleting a tweet which read: “Analysis by world-leading experts at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down made clear this was a military-grade Novichok nerve agent produced in Russia.” If this chaos is anything to go by, we could be in store for a lot more with Johnson in No. 10.  

Relations with Russia under Johnson will be utterly unpredictable. Whereas his rival for the leadership, Hunt, followed the “party line” on Russia to the letter, it’s not clear how Johnson intends to deal with one of the worst periods in Anglo-Russian history. On the one hand Johnson has openly stressed in the past that he is a fan of Russia, has no quarrel with the Russian people and has himself Russian blood (although his name Boris bears no relation to his ancestry). But his record as foreign secretary includes comments that Russia is “closed, nasty, militaristic and anti-democratic” – hardly language which fosters dialogue and promotes understanding between nations.

Johnson has also been previously quoted as saying President Vladimir Putin was a “ruthless and manipulative tyrant.” Having received endorsement from President Donald Trump prior to winning the leadership contest, Johnson will little doubt be toeing the U.S. line when it comes to foreign policy, as all his predecessors have done.

Video released by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards shows Iranian troops taking over British-flagged tanker from helicopter. (YouTube)

The first serious foreign policy test for him as leader will be Iran, seemingly Washington’s next chosen target for regime change. We have already seen the rather inexplicable British seizure of an Iranian ship near Gibraltar this month – supposedly for breaking EU sanctions by allegedly heading for Syria. The expected tit-for-tat retaliation from Iran came last week as it captured a British oil tanker near Oman. The U.K. has already declared the Iranian move an“act of state piracy,”and announced the formation of a European-led maritime security mission in the Persian Gulf. But Britain struggles to demonstrate how its own decision to seize the Iranian tanker had any basis in international law.

Johnson therefore will be tasked with turning the heat down on what is an increasingly volatile situation with regard to Iran. It will be interesting to witness how, in his bid to promote a brand-new Britain after Brexit, he will maintain the balance of siding with the hawkish Trump administration while pursuing a fresh foreign policy.

Johanna Ross is a freelance journalist based in the United Kingdom.

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17 comments for “UK Buckles Up for Ride with Unpredictable New PM

  1. Abe
    July 28, 2019 at 20:32

    “The Lobby” – a four-part undercover investigative series by Al Jareeza – reveals the Israeli Embassy’s covert influence campaign in the UK.

    “The Lobby” exposes Israel’s extensive, well-financed propaganda campaign in the UK:

    The Lobby Part 1:

    The Lobby Part 2:

    The Lobby Part 3:

    The Lobby Part 4:

    The Al Jareeza documentary, which originally aired in January 2017, uncovers how Israel penetrates different levels of British democracy.

    “The Lobby” shows the activities of a senior political officer at the Israeli embassy in London, including efforts to influence political groups in the UK.

    The Israeli embassy officer had plotted to “take down” senior British government minister Alan Duncan, and worked with pro-Israel lawmakers in the Labour Party who exaggerated and faked “anti-Semitism” in the party, amid plots and coup attempts against leader Jeremy Corbyn.

    The embassy officer was likely an agent of Israel’s Ministry of Strategy Affairs.

    “The Lobby” raises serious questions about how accusations of “anti-Semitism” are used to stifle political debate.

    Clayton Swisher, director of investigative journalism for Al Jazeera, discussed the making of “The Lobby” at the “Israel Lobby and American Policy” conference on 24 March 2017 at the National Press Club.

    After “the Lobby” aired in 2017, the British Labour Party, the Scottish National Party, as well as senior figures in the governing Conservative Party, expressed outrage at Israel’s interference in the UK’s political process and called for investigations.

    BoJo the Clown, then the UK’s foreign minister, merely accepted an “apology” from Israeli ambassador Mark Regev and promptly declared that “the matter can be considered closed”.

    But the matter of Israeli influence on both the UK and US governments remains a grave concern that demands further investigation.

  2. Abe
    July 28, 2019 at 19:12

    UK buckles up for ride with all-too-predictable new pro-Israel PM:

    “Britain’s new Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced his new cabinet appointments Wednesday and among them was a promotion for MP Priti Patel, who he named the country’s home secretary, in charge of the country’s immigration, crime and policing, counter-terrorism and drugs policy.

    “Patel was sacked from Theresa May’s cabinet in 2017 for having a secret diplomatic backchannel with Israeli officials, which was used to influence changes in official U.K. policy.

    “Home Secretary is one of the most senior positions within the cabinet, considered in Britain as one of the ‘great offices of state. There are concerns about Patel being given such a senior role after admitting to wrongdoing in 2017.

    “When Patel served as Minister for International Development in Theresa May’s cabinet, she was forced to step down after it was revealed that she had visited Israel and held 12 secret meetings with senior officials, including Prime Minister Netanyahu. Following these meetings she returned to the U.K. and lobbied for U.K. involvement in Israeli operations in the Golan Heights (which the U.K. does not recognize as an Israeli territory), furthermore, calling for Britain to begin sending military aid to Israel.

    “She was accused of undermining Theresa May and ‘conducting her own foreign policy’ in contravention of official U.K. policy.”

  3. Abe
    July 28, 2019 at 19:01

    In a 20 July 2019 piece for the Guardian, Simon Tisdall avers that “With the seizure of a supertanker off Gibraltar, distracted UK government was set up by John Bolton as collateral damage.”

    Tisdall observes that “John Bolton, White House national security adviser and notorious Iraq-era hawk, is a man on a mission. Given broad latitude over policy by Donald Trump, he is widely held to be driving the US confrontation with Iran. And in his passionate bid to tame Tehran, Bolton cares little who gets hurt – even if collateral damage includes a close ally such as Britain.”

    Citing evidence that “Bolton’s national security team was directly involved in manufacturing” the Gibraltar affair, Tisdale claims that Conservative UK politicians had “stumbled into an American trap”.

    What Tisdall and the rest of the mainstream British and American press assiduously ignore is Israeli political interference and pro-Israel Lobby influence on US and UK foreign policy.

    Bolton, Mike Pompeo, Mike Pence, and Donald Trump are all deep in the pockets of the pro-Israel Lobby in the US.

    Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt are both deep in the pockets of the pro-Israel Lobby in the UK.

    Thus precious little additional “set up” was required to secure direct UK participation in the pro-Israel Lobby driven “maximum pressure” war campaign against Iran.

    Johnson made clear his strong support for Israel while foreign minister, lauding the “genius of Israel” at an October 2017 parliamentary reception marking 100 years since the Balfour Declaration and expressing his pride in “Britain’s part in creating Israel” in a Daily Telegraph op-ed.

    In May 2019, the Times of Israel claimed that Johnson’s maternal great-grandfather was a rabbi from Lithuania, and that he also has a connection to one of Britain’s leading Jewish families: Johnson’s father’s second wife, Jenny, is the stepdaughter of Edward Sieff, the philanthropist and former chairman of retail giant Marks & Spencer.

    Roughly 60% of the Jewish community in Britain lives in Greater London, and Johnson’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns for Mayor of London received significant backing from Jewish donors. Johnson promptly signed London up to an international “antisemitism” opposition initiative.

    As Mayor of London, Johnson demonstrated support for Israel by opposing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. He intervened in a row over a controversial sponsorship deal between Transport for London and Emirates Airline, Johnson declared that he could “not think of anything more foolish” than BDS.

    As May’s foreign secretary, Johnson took a robust stance against Israel’s international critics, For example, he called the UN Human Rights Council concerns about Israel “preposterous” and “absurd”.

    Johnson famously called Donald Trump’s move to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital a “moment of opportunity” for peace. His acceptance of Trump’s loony decision brought accusations of “making policy up on the hoof” and weakening Britain’s long-stated position on this important issue.

    Hunt, the current UK foreign secretary, is no less zealous for Israel. Hunt tweeted his approval when Germany recently passed a law declaring the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement “anti-Semitic”, saying: “Boycotting Israel – the world’s only Jewish state – is anti-Semitic.”

    Hunt recently announced that the UK will in future oppose any motions criticizing Israel’s human rights abuses in the West Bank and Gaza that are brought to the UN’s Human Rights Council under “Item 7”, a procedure that addresses Israeli abuses in the occupied Palestinian territories.

    At a Conservative Friends of Israel annual parliamentary reception early this year, Hunt declared that “Israel’s right to self-defense is absolutely unconditional”. Of course, he said nothing about Palestine’s similar right against the illegal occupier.

    Hunt also called Jeremy Corbyn, the Leader of the Labour Party, “pathetic” for questioning the credibility of claims that Iran was “definitely” or “almost certainly” responsible for the attacks on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf and doubting the word of British intelligence.

    Meanwhile the pro-Israel Lobby is leading a witch hunt against Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn has always supported the cause of Palestinian rights and viewed Israel skeptically, breaking the Blaririte mould of knee-jerk support for Israel.

    The goal of Israel and the pro-Israel Lobby to neutralize politicians and movements around the world that threaten to hold Israel accountable for its wholesale violations of international law.

    Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory on the the West Bank and Jerusalem, Gaza siege, wars in Lebanon and Gaza, international assassination campaigns, illegal annexation of the Golan Heights, warmongering against Syria and Iran and much more are legitimate causes of criticism.

    For example, claiming that Israel is a “racist endeavor’” is in no way “antisemitic”. In fact, it is a justified critique, as Israel’s most recent passage of the Jews-Only Nation State law shows.

    The charges of “antisemitism” being thrown at Corbyn’s party are not based on religious prejudice, which is the traditional definition of the term. Rather, they are purely political in nature and are part of a carefully orchestrated campaign to drive a wedge between Labour and its electorate.

    The pro-Israel Lobby groups and individuals behind the campaign to destroy the Labour Party under Corbyn have latched onto anti-Semitism because they know they cannot win the argument fairly. They know that Britain has little stomach for Israel’s mass violence against the Palestinians.

    The activities of the pro-Israel Lobby involve blatant interference by Israel in the UK’s democracy:

    The Lobby Episode 4: The Takedown

    The Al Jareeza investigation documents discussion by an Israeli embassy official in London of a potential plot to ‘”take down” UK politicians – including a senior British government minster.

    The pro-Israel Lobby in the UK uses a very similar playbook to the pro-Israel Lobby in the United States.

  4. Alan Ross
    July 28, 2019 at 08:28

    If Trump is a good example, Johnson will make a lot of contemptuous noise to satisfy his ego and his base, while he carries out the policies of the greedy warmongering profit boys.

  5. July 28, 2019 at 06:04

    Boris Johnson is Donald Trump with an Eton accent and schoolboy looks.

    The actual content of what comes out of his mouth and his attitudes and prejudices are close to identical.

    He’s actually a rather creepy figure because it is possible, if you aren’t familiar with him, to take his clowning around as good-natured.

    And who doesn’t welcome some jokes in politics, it’s mostly such an ugly business?

    But this is a clown like something out of a Stephen King story or Madame Tussaud’s Chamber of Horrors.

    It is rather frightening that two such figures would emerge at the same time, thousands of miles apart.

  6. Mark Stanley
    July 27, 2019 at 10:23

    Every time I see an image of this guy I think the same thing: So–the Anglo-Saxon conquest of Britain has finally succeeded!
    Nothing against the Angles, Saxons or Jutes mind you. They were just folks looking for better farmland. But Boris is no farmer. He’s the guy with horns on his helm, and the battle axe in his hand.

  7. OlyaPola
    July 26, 2019 at 13:22

    “Has he got what it takes? asks Johanna Ross.”

    Why believe that is solely and/or primarily dependent on him?

  8. Dave
    July 26, 2019 at 11:32

    I think everyone should keep making predictions. It’s been working so well.

  9. Anonymot
    July 25, 2019 at 11:28

    Our English lap dog, John Major, was to Bush what Johnson will be to Trump. They represent a disease, PILL (Public Ignorance & Limping Leadership), for which there is no vaccination.

  10. Rick Patel
    July 25, 2019 at 09:24

    Boris is totally predictable. He will be a noisy but obedient US poodle.

    • Anonymous
      July 25, 2019 at 15:05

      He looks more like a golden retriever

  11. July 25, 2019 at 02:59

    Who are the paragons of competence and honesty that will be swept away in the Cabinet change? Will the island succumb to a shock of change with Tweedle Dee gone and Tweedle Dum taking her place?

  12. LJ
    July 24, 2019 at 20:55

    Not even a rhetorical question . This man is a buffoon. I love the coiffed disheveled hair and the bimbo girlfriend that obviously either has a screw loose and or/drinks to excess. Other than that, if he wasn’t an absolute loser he would have been Prime Minister instead of May in the first place with an quicker exit. To me the interesting question is how long it will take Reuters, The Guardian, BBC and the rest to start smacking up to Uncle Jeremy and start some serious ass kissing because he’s next post haste. With the austerity and the crime increase the Tories were already in trouble. Spin isn’t going to whitewash this idiots incapability to do anything but sink the ship of state, Good Riddance Britannia, How could the Queen have given this bore such a job at such a tine, It is so clear that Princess Kate should make all the important decisions in England now. I hope Boris doesn’t G up the PERSIAN GULF but I nave no doubt he will. Peace….,

  13. Jeff Harrison
    July 24, 2019 at 20:01

    More importantly, where’s he going to get the money? Britain already has finance problems. Brexit will exacerbate them. If Scotland leaves, England and Wales are screwed.

  14. Tom Kath
    July 24, 2019 at 19:34

    Just another article confirming mindless polarisation. Everything reduced to right/wrong, in/out, good/bad, black/white, etc.

  15. July 24, 2019 at 15:05

    What’s the fancy Greek word, kakistocracy? Chris Hedges calls it the reign of idiots. Boris Trumpkin elevated precisely for their incompetence by puppet makers who wish to destroy government completely. No government means the rich folks can do what they want. Call themselves a brand or a corporation and escape liability for their actions completely. The Golden Rule becomes who has the gold makes the rules. It isn’t an accident this is happening, it isn’t a flaw, rather it is a feature of the bigger slimeier schemey scam.

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