It’s getting harder by the day to find any meaningful difference between the approach to national governance of Donald Trump and that of Boris Johnson. Johnson seems to be adopting the American Presidents leadership style more and more, and that’s nothing to laugh about.
In 2019, Johnson made remarks about ‘Trump doing Brexit’, noting that ‘he’d go in bloody hard… There’d be all sorts of breakdowns, all sorts of chaos. Everyone would think he’d gone mad. But actually, you might get somewhere. It’s a very, very good thought.’
Recently, Trump argued that America was ‘rounding the corner’ with coronavirus. A week or two earlier, he claimed that a vaccine would be ready just before the election in November. Neither of these claims is likely to be correct. The challenge of getting people to see that his statements are wrong is massively difficult due to his populist appeal.
Similarly, the Prime Minister last January signed his ‘oven-ready’ deal with the EU and told all those listening that the rest was achievable by the end of 2020, despite caution from Europe who urged the Prime Minister to allow for more time.
The Prime Minister, however, was having none of it and promoted the view that getting a deal done was just about getting it done. That kind of rhetoric is always more preferable to an audience, whoever they are. None of us wishes to invite complexity into our living rooms, and even if one had doubts about the Prime Minister’s optimism his portrayal of Europe as the evil entity trying to take away Britain’s sovereignty successfully masked those doubts.
As we approach the final stages of the Brexit negotiations, Johnson and his senior advisor Dominic Cummings have thrown a substantial political grenade into the proceedings by, quite openly, proposing to break an international treaty Johnson himself signed. He suggests that the Internal Market Bill is insurance to prevent the likely breakup of the United Kingdom planned by the EU.
Johnson’s explainer-in-chief, Michael Gove, the man who asked Donald Trump for assurances he wouldn’t be nasty to the UK after Brexit, tells us, by way of explanation, that the negotiations are complex. He suggests no-one had fully understood what was involved.
This argument, of course, isn’t easy to accept. Any business or organisation engaged in complex negotiations, upon recognising a potential error would seek to correct the mistake. They would not merely throw out the agreements already reached. Unless that is if something else was driving the impasse.
It may well be that what we are witnessing here, just as in America, is ‘Disruption Politics’. Whether Boris Johnson, Dominic Cummings and Donald Trump are trying to apply the ‘Politics of Disruption’ theory is unclear. They might be, but we’re unable to tell for certain because we don’t know their agendas.
Despite British protestations that the newly proposed Internal Market Bill is merely an insurance policy, it’s becoming more apparent that there’s another agenda in play. The justification that the EU has hardened its stance has been roundly dismissed as false by both the Irish Foreign Minister, Simon Coveney and the EU Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier. And, most importantly, no evidence has been put forward to justify any of the claims currently being made by the British Government.
Meanwhile, Michael Gove’s explanation that the issues are complex sounds as hollow as it is unreasonable. No-one can seriously believe that the British negotiating team are anything but extremely sharp at what they do.
When trying to analyse the ‘peculiar behaviour’ of the British Government, as Simon Coveney describes it, one might consider the circumstances under which the seemingly peculiar behaviour might seem, in fact, entirely rational. Perhaps, as Katya Adler suggests, it’s a thinly veiled attempt to provoke the EU into throwing their collective hands up in horror, and utter, ‘Mon Dieu’ as they head for the airports back to the safety of their capitals, thus ending negotiations.
In such circumstances, the British Government would undoubtedly proclaim that they were indeed right not to place their trust in Europe, confirming that Britain is better off without them. But such a development would put enormous strain on already fraught relationships within the EU, and some in London might well consider it worth gambling that in such circumstances, Europe’s steadfastness would begin to falter.
When you move fast and break things, that’s your endgame. After that, you need to wait to see how the wind is blowing. And, if you’re wondering why the United Kingdom might be interested in seeing the EU falter in its current unity; look no further than the well-tried and tested military tactic of ‘Divide and Conquer’.
Dominic Cummings is credited as being the intellect behind Brexit – and the slogan ‘Get Brexit done’ which catapulted the Conservatives into election victory – and by extension, is responsible for the toxicity that followed in its wake. Cummings is a man who’s driven by the belief that the Government is very poorly run and needs fixing.
As Harry Lambert wrote in the New Statesman, ‘Cummings needs the credible threat of no-deal to “move the Irish”. Without a majority, that threat is weak, and no new agreement is likely to be forged.’
Europe’s position has been consistently strong and united. It has remained unfaltering in the face of immense and entirely unreasonable pressure from a Britain who seems to want to bring the EU to its knees. This is ‘Disruption Politics’ at its worst. It recalls Donald Trump’s unsought advice to Theresa May that she should sue the EU and create as much havoc as possible.
Commenting on the approach of the UK to the negotiations, Kim Darroch, former Ambassador to the US for Britain remarked: “There is something about the negotiating style of this British government, especially in their handling of post-Brexit negotiations with the European Union, which looks a bit like Donald Trump’s negotiating style.”
Whatever the reality, Britain’s current approach is like a wrecking ball swung at international relations. The trouble with wrecking balls is that you can never be quite sure when the damage will stop. Left unchecked, and more than any other nation, Ireland will pay a heavy price for Britain’s ambitions, regrettably, not for the first time.