An English Nationalist

Lord Patten has aptly described Boris Johnson as an ‘English nationalist’, less than three weeks before the country is due to leave the EU in a Brexit – still not knowing whether it would have a trade deal with its biggest trading partner:

“What we’re seeing is Boris Johnson on this runaway train of English exceptionalism and heaven knows where it is going to take us in the end,” Lord Patten said.

“… I don’t think that Mr Johnson is a Conservative, I think he is an English nationalist.

“And all the things that Conservatives used to believe in – like standing up for the Union, like not attacking our institutions, like the judges, like believing in international co-operation – seem to have gone out of the window.”

Boris Johnson can be accurately described as a nationalist and authoritarian populist.  Like his counterpart across the Atlantic, Donald Trump, he wants to appear strong by being aggressive.  The supporters of both men are presumably encouraged by being represented by such people.  Johnson is fomenting English nationalism, trying to imitate his hero Winston Churchill, yet the circumstances now are very different.  England is not, or should not be, at war with the EU.  Both sides would benefit from having a trade deal – and Britain would be the biggest loser without one.

Despite his loud assertions that a no-deal Brexit would be “wonderful”, Johnson is playing with a very weak hand and the EU knows this perfectly well.  The UK has a GDP of less than 3 trillion US dollars, whereas the GDP of the remaining 27 members of the EU is more than 18 trillion.  Whether or not a trade deal is finally agreed, Johnson’s strategy has damaged Britain by antagonising such a significant neighbour.  Sending out gunboats, to enforce Britain’s fishing rights, is reminiscent of Lord Palmerston’s idea of diplomacy when Britain had a huge empire – and even if Britain were able to catch all the fish in its territorial waters, it would need to be able to sell them to European customers.

Little more than a year ago, Boris Johnson asserted that a “Brexit no-deal outcome would represent a ‘failure of statecraft’”.  That was a fair assessment.  And even if he were now to get a deal, he has damaged the country by leaving it so late and with such a hostile stance, so his statecraft is clearly inadequate.


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