In defense of Boris Johnson – POLITICO

Daniel Johnson is the editor of He is a former associate and literary editor of The Times; he was editor of the Daily Telegraph and founding editor of Standpoint.

Boris Johnson was prime minister for less than three years, but in that short time he changed the course of European history. Although his term as Prime Minister came to a chaotic and unseemly end, he deserves to be listed among the handful of British statesmen and women of the last century who made a real difference in the world: Lloyd George, Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher.

Johnson’s first and most enduring legacy is, of course, Brexit. Not all readers will share his enthusiasm for this bold reassertion of national sovereignty, but no one can deny its seismic significance.

Johnson led the referendum campaign and stamped his personality on the terms of Britain’s divorce from the European Union – he was the one who kept his promise to ‘get Brexit done’. After former Prime Ministers’ disappointment, David Cameron’s ‘renegotiation’ and Theresa May’s dysfunctional and divisive ‘deal’ despair, Johnson razed the opposition and won a huge mandate from the electorate to cut the knot. gordian. And Boris’ Brexit Treaty removed the UK from the arachnid jurisdiction of the EU and its institutions.

It was a Houdini-esque escape exercise – but there was one flaw.

The Northern Ireland Protocol has created an artificial and unnecessary customs border in the Irish Sea, alienating the pro-British Unionist community and leaving the province’s fragile peace more at risk than it has been in a quarter of a century. The EU’s punitive and inflexible interpretation of post-Brexit trade with the UK has turned the protocol into an instrument of Irish republican irredentism. Despite Johnson’s best efforts to find a compromise that allows goods to move freely while protecting the single market, it remains an intractable problem that he bequeaths to his successor.

Johnson’s second big test was the pandemic, during which he fell seriously ill with COVID-19, and almost literally came back from the dead. The jury is still out on his handling of the economic crisis caused by the closures, allied to the exorbitant cost of various forms of income support and business subsidies. But the primary responsibility for runaway inflation, caused, in part, by excessive money printing and overspending on stimulus, lies not with Johnson, but with the Bank of England and the Treasury, respectively. . And it’s fair to say he was right about rolling out the vaccine – initially Europe’s fastest – and lifting restrictions early a year ago.

The legacy of COVID-19 spending and taxation, which left the UK with a bloated state weighing heavily on living standards, remains unfinished business. But Johnson can reasonably claim to have mitigated the damage done. And if his party had allowed him to stay in power, he would no doubt have reverted to his instinctive fiscal conservatism – impossible during an unprecedented pandemic.

The pandemic has also provided the first cost-benefit analysis of Brexit, albeit in the worst imaginable circumstances. Johnson was unfortunate enough to be forced to postpone his post-Brexit agenda of domestic deregulation and global free trade. Yet to the extent that the UK survived the ordeal as well as its EU neighbours, he and his fellow Brexiteers felt vindicated. His leveling policies, mainly aimed at the so-called « red wall » parts of England that vote to leave, have also been delayed by the need to fix the ailing national health service and provide comprehensive pandemic prophylaxis.

However, the COVID-19 crisis quickly turned into another chapter in the rocky relationship between the mainland cartel and the buccaneering islanders offshore. Battles with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen over vaccine supplies and with French President Emmanuel Macron over cross-Channel trade have done nothing to restore cordial relations with the bloc. Yet history may judge Johnson guiltier than guilty in this mutual antagonism: the vindictive attitudes emanating from Paris and Berlin were not reciprocated in London. Macron had openly mocked Johnson for years as a « clown », but when he demanded a public reconciliation at last month’s G7 summit, Johnson responded generously to the importunate president.

The next test of British independence, however, was triggered by another horseman of the apocalypse: not plague but war, which may soon be followed by famine.

In Russian President Vladimir Putin, Johnson has found an enemy willing to destroy everything and everyone in his path with diabolical nihilism. And as far as Ukraine is concerned, he can legitimately claim to have played his cards with almost supernatural skill.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson | Pool photo by Joe Giddens/Getty Images

Unlike Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who found himself caught in a Faustian pact with Putin’s war machine due to Germany’s reliance on Russian energy, Johnson could claim to have seen war coming. British forces had been training their Ukrainian counterparts since the annexation of Crimea in 2014. At the start of the invasion, British weapons and training played a vital role in Ukraine’s defeat of Russian offensives on Kyiv and Kharkov.

Johnson’s leadership was no less important, bolstering the resolve of a wobbly US President Joe Biden and ensuring the Anglosphere stood behind Ukraine – even as Europeans were divided on the extent to which to commit resources in the conflict.

Johnson’s unequivocal support for their cause made him a hero to Ukrainians and enabled him to forge a unique bond with Volodymyr Zelenskyy, their embattled president. Zelenskyy is not fooled: he knew how genuine his friend Boris’ commitment to Ukraine was. Meanwhile, Putin’s propaganda was launching increasingly hysterical threats against the UK, and when Johnson resigned, the Russian Foreign Office said: « The moral of the story: don’t try to destroy Russia.

Yet the real moral of the story is different: don’t expect your party to reward you for doing the right thing on the world stage.

Johnson was shot for his cumulative mishandling of management issues at Downing Street. The leader, who in 2019 won the Tories their biggest vote since 1979, was ousted in a putsch by an unholy alliance of Westminster, the civil service and the BBC. And the prime minister who saved the country from the nightmare of a Labor government led by far-left extremist Jeremy Corbyn has been denounced as ‘unfit for office’ by current Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer, who had served Corbyn loyally.

In the 21st century, so far, only three European leaders will be remembered 100 years from now. One, I fear, is Vladimir Putin, whose name will live in infamy. The second is Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the valiant defender of Ukraine. And the third is Boris Johnson, the man who rallied the West against the enemies of our civilization.

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