Socialist Worker

Boris Johnson won’t end the Tories’ woes

by Alex Callinicos
Issue No. 2657

Boris Johnson prefers a trade deal with Trump. But will it spell disaster for him?

Boris Johnson prefers a trade deal with Trump. But will it spell disaster for him? (Pic: The White House, Chatham House)


The fact that Donald Trump has endorsed Boris Johnson for the Tory leadership, telling the Sun newspaper “he would be excellent”, is no surprise.

While running for president, Trump welcomed the Brexit referendum of June 2016.

Nigel Farage visited Trump in New York soon after he had won the presidency the same November. And Trump has actively promoted an axis of far right governments in Europe headed by the likes of Matteo Salvini in Italy, and Viktor Orban in Hungary.

The more interesting question is what’s in it for Johnson. He’s now the favourite to win the leadership election. The Tory rank and file expect him to deliver a clear break with the European Union (EU), probably leaving without a deal.

If that’s how he hopes to win, then he’s logically committed to drawing much closer to the United States. Since Britain joined the European Economic Community in 1973, its role has been to be the closest ally of the US in Brussels. This gave rise to conflicts, notably when France and Germany opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003, but on the whole it has served British capitalism well.

But the referendum made this orientation impossible.

The deal Maygot from the remaining EU-27 represented too little for business, especially the City—but much too much for the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg

Theresa May spent two years pandering to Tory Brexiteers on the back benches. She then realised last summer that big business wants Britain to retain as much as possible of the substance of the relationship it has with the EU as a member state after Brexit.

This destroyed May’s premiership.

The deal she got from the remaining EU-27 represented too little of that substance for business, especially the City—but much too much for the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg.

It was in July last year that Johnson resigned from her cabinet in protest against May’s reorientation.

According to Financial Times columnist Gideon Rachman, “The Johnson analysis (if that is not too grand a word) is that Mrs May failed to grasp the implications of Brexit and the election of Mr Trump. She was too conciliatory with the EU. And on the big international issues—from Iran to climate change to trade—Mrs May also took positions that were closer to Brussels than to Washington.

“Mr Johnson has suggested that Mr Trump’s crockery-smashing diplomacy would be a better model for Britain in dealing with the EU. In compensation for an economic rupture with Europe, he would seek a rapid trade deal with the Trump administration.”

He hasn’t much choice. The European elections took place in Britain as part of May’s efforts to buy time for a compromise deal. But they have made such a deal much harder to achieve because it was the opponents of compromise—Farage, and the Liberal Democrats who want to reverse Brexit—who did best.

The collapse of a main pillar of British strategy since the 1960s would push Johnson to cosy up to the US, embracing ultra-neoliberal policies to ingratiate himself with Trump. But this would leave him in a pretty bad place.

If Johnson becomes prime minister, his attempt to renegotiate May’s withdrawal agreement will be rebuffed by Brussels. Unless the EU allows another postponement of Brexit, Britain will crash out of the EU on Halloween.

No one knows how much this will disrupt air traffic, cross-Channel supply chains, and financial markets, but there certainly will be some disruption.

Relations between a Britain headed by Johnson and the EU—never likely to be cordial since he is despised in Continental capitals—would sink even lower.

The collapse of a main pillar of British strategy since the 1960s would push Johnson to cosy up to the US, embracing ultra-neoliberal policies to ingratiate himself with Trump.

But this would leave him in a pretty bad place. According to EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier, who may become the next president of the European Commission, Brussels would insist on all the most controversial elements of the withdrawal agreement when discussing a future relationship with Britain. And the US would take advantage of Britain’s weakness when negotiating a future trade deal, however much Johnson fawned on Trump.

Interestingly Rachman concludes that “the Johnson project is so filled with dangers that it could easily collapse fairly quickly. That development would play into the hands of Mr Corbyn, ahead of a general election.”

Power could fade in Johnson’s hands almost as soon as he grasps it.


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