Boris Johnson an enigma wrapped in a mystery: the Brexit saga continues as the world watches in fascination

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Boris Johnson, the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. (photo: wikimediacommons/ https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Boris_Johnson_hartismere.jpg)

IO – The latest joke doing the rounds in ASEAN and India is that between Boris Johnson, as Prime Minister of the UK and Donald Trump as President of America on either side of the Atlantic, a new trade route has been established: the Translunatic.

But jokes aside, is Boris Johnson really the same as Mr Trump? When looking at the evidence the answer seems to be yes and no. On some things they share similarities but not on others. So, who really is Boris Johnson? A highly intelligent man who was described by his teachers as a very gifted boy that managed to win scholarships first to Eton, the top school in Briton where he became captain of the school and then to the University of Oxford where he headed the Oxford Union debating society. Johnson himself describes intelligence as really being about energy or American gung hoery. Tom Mctague in the Atlantic says that he has a romantic, egocentric belief in his personal power to do great things and solve great puzzles through the force of his personality.

Boris has also been described as, “… the paramount of exaggeration and distortion and lies.” Former Euro MP from Portugal Ana Gomes says that Boris Johnson is a totally unreliable and crazy man. Not only did he lie and misrepresent facts as a journalist (to the extent that the Times dismissed him for falsifying quotes) but he also told many fabrications during his Brexit campaign. During that campaign he further betrayed then prime minister, David Cameron who was of his own party and his friend since Eton and the man who had suggested and supported him as Mayor of London.

His critics accuse him of having promised during his Brexit campaign that when Britain left the EU there would be frictionless trade with new trade deals in place, that the public would continue to receive, the same benefits as when they were members of the EU and that Britain would be able to save £350 million per week for its National Health Service. Now it seems, he is not promising any of that. Despite the fact that the British parliament has shown that they will not allow a no-deal Brexit and both the Bank of England as well as the TUC which represents the largest number of trade unions in the UK do not support it Boris Johnson has said that he is preparing for a no-deal or hard Brexit. Many feel that he does not even have a true mandate from the British people for either his position or his policies. Ana Gomes claims that Boris Johnson was elected prime minister by 150,000 members of the Tory Party some of whom were children as it has no rules about the age of voters on party matters. “The truly democratic solution for Britain would be to hold another referendum,” insists Gomes.

A source at the European Central Bank who wishes to remain anonymous says that perhaps using the threat of a no-deal Brexit might have worked when Theresa May first began negotiations with the EU but that now the EU already knows that the British parliament will not support a no-deal Brexit, “He may threaten to withhold the 39 billion euros owed to the EU but a portion of that money is to pay the pensions of British citizens who worked as former EU bureaucrats. How can he refuse to do that? The EU will take him to the International Court of Justice and once the UK is out of the EU it will have to negotiate a trade deal with the EU and that is when the EU will take its revenge with very hard terms. It will get those 39 billion euros.”

How has Boris Johnson managed to get this far? Unlike Trump, he comes across as an extremely amiable man who knows how to be self-deprecating and laugh at himself in order to disarm his audience and critics. Sonia Purnell In her book Just Boris holds the view that Johnson’s extremely ambitious character and disregard for the truth originate from a childhood where his father more or less was nearly never around for months at a time and where his mother who bound the children together with her warmth and personality suddenly had a nervous break down and had to leave the children while she received psychological assistance for nearly 8 months. Johnson was packed off to boarding school at the age of 11. Three years later his parents’ marriage collapsed. Lucille Iremonger in her book The Fiery Chariot writes that surveys have shown that children who have experienced such abandonment by their parents frequently develop an enormous ambition and longing for power. A survey of past British prime ministers shows a preponderance of prime ministers who as children had been in some way abandoned by their parents. Iremonger writes that “Deprivation of love in childhood imbues exceptionally gifted children with a ferocious ambition later in life; many demonstrate the most powerful drives for attention and affection. Johnson for example used to say that he wanted to become “world king”. “Unhurtable and invincible from the pains of life” as his sister Rachel put it. In many Iremonger says this can also lead to a recklessness that can be almost like a death wish and which Boris himself has mentioned.

Such abandonment creates enormous insecurity which can be protected through obtaining power and in Johnson’s case his ancestry may have added a further legacy of insecurity. Johnson’s great-grandfather was Ali Kemal, a Turkish Anglophile journalist and cabinet minister who advocated Turkey becoming a British protectorate. One of Kemal Ataturk’s generals apparently incited a crowd to lynch him from a tree and then beat and stoned the poor man to death. Boris took steps to thoroughly investigated his ancestry and what happened to his great-grandfather with the help of family as well as public records, genealogy experts and academicians and even went to Turkey to research his past. His great-grandmother gave birth to his grandfather in England and then died in childbirth so that the baby was raised by his English great-great-grandmother who changed his great-grandfather’s last name to Johnson for the First World War was not a good time to have a Turkish last name as Turkey had aligned itself to Germany against Britain. Had she not done so Boris name would now probably be Boris Kemal rather than Boris Johnson.

Unlike Trump, Boris is not said to be racist which was apparent when he was Mayor of London. One of Johnson’s first steps as prime minister has been to pressure the EU to renegotiate by threatening a no-deal Brexit.  Ana Gomes says that if the UK leaves the EU with no deal it is the UK that will suffer most. “They will be an isolated market having to negotiate trade deals with everyone else including Europe and with Europe it is not just trade deals but also security deals that will need to be renegotiated.” Indonesia for example may try to negotiate for a better deal on palm oil than it has with the EU.

Jonjo Mooney, a worker from Northern Ireland says that he like 57% of those voting in the referendum in Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU and, “… it has been a nightmare since the EU referendum.”  

This is because the removal of hard borders between Ireland and Northern Ireland was an integral part of the Good Friday Agreement between Ireland and the UK bringing about the peace process in Northern Ireland. A hard Brexit which would bring back such borders also carries with it the spectre of renewed violence.

The Irish Embassy in Jakarta describes the EU as a home that Ireland has helped to build and says, “Prime Minister Johnson’s proposal to abolish the backstop is completely unacceptable. Our position has been clear and consistent – the Withdrawal Agreement, including the backstop, cannot be opened or renegotiated… It is the only viable solution on the table that avoids any physical infrastructure and related checks and controls, preserves the all-island economy, and fully protects the Good Friday Agreement, as well as the integrity of the EU Single Market and Ireland’s place in it. Ireland and the EU are at one on this…Contrary to what Prime Minister Johnson has said, there is no common ground between London, Dublin and Brussels that a hard border can be avoided through alternative arrangements such as trusted trader schemes or technologies… There are currently no such technological solutions in operation anywhere…” It then adds ominously that, “…there should be no illusion – a no-deal Brexit would result in far reaching change on the island of Ireland.”

Polls show that apparently, 62% of Northern Ireland voters would be in favour of unification with Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit. There is similar animosity in Scotland where First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who leads the semi-autonomous Edinburgh-based government said Johnson’s Brexit plans would hurt the Scottish economy and that she would continue preparations for a second independence referendum. Scotland rejected independence from Britain by a 55% majority in 2014 but now that number has dropped to 47%. Ian Blackford, the Scottish National Party’s leader in Parliament welcomed, “the last prime minister of the United Kingdom.” on Johnson’s first day as prime minister, in the House of Commons. Even in Wales which voted for Brexit, Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford warned that a no-deal Brexit would be “catastrophic” for Wales and could cause civil unrest among sheep farmers. Sheep farmers threatening civil unrest???

Meanwhile in England, Mr Johnson’s enemies are rapidly gathering to unite against him. Philip Hammond, former British finance minister under Theresa May, and top Labour Brexit official, Kier Starmer, have met and agreed to work with other members of parliament including Conservative members to discuss how best to torpedo a no-deal Brexit.

For non-European nations it is difficult to understand why the British wish to leave the EU let alone with a no-deal Brexit. It’s Single Market provides access to 500 million people. Today even pro-Brexit MPs talk of the short-term negative effects of Brexit on the British economy as lasting thirty years which is longer than the British economy took to recover from the Second World War and even then, Britain did not fully recover until it joined the EU. It is very strange for as Bill Clinton pointed out in his advice on campaigning, “It’s the economy Dummy. It’s the economy.” In Britain however, apparently not: the pound has reached a two-year low against the dollar and every time it seems more likely that Britain will leave the EU without a deal, sterling falls again against the dollar nevertheless Mr Johnson’s government is making preparations for a no-deal Brexit its priority. Some speculate that Britain is going through the last stage of a psychological inner drama of trying to come to terms with its identity in the 21st century and Boris Johnson is the figure they have chosen to represent them.

Iremonger describes the hunger for power among the insecure as the Phaeton complex. It is the fate of children whose insecurity derives from abandonment by their parents. In the Greek myth Phaeton son of the sun god insists his father prove he is truly his father and that he truly loves him by allowing him to drive his sun chariot. When the sun god does so she writes that “Phaeton’s utter ‘inadequacy’ becomes clear and he plunges scorching to the earth creating the Sahara Desert. Jupiter then strikes him down with a thunderbolt to prevent further damage to the earth. She says that Phaeton’s suicidal determination to display himself to all man as carrying out a superhuman task leads only to disaster to himself and possibly others.

It would be a mistake however to underestimate Boris Johnson who is not only an accomplished survivor but also seems ultimately to succeed at nearly everything he sets out to do from becoming school captain at Eton and head of the Oxford Union, to member of parliament, successfully campaigning for Brexit to finally becoming prime minister. We must wait and see or not see what rabbit he pulls out of his hat with his no-deal Brexit.  Only time will tell. Meanwhile, the rest of the non-European world continues to watch with bated breath and increasing bewilderment what appears to be Britain’s determination to carry out a horrifying act of economic and political hara-kiri. (Tamalia Alisjahbana)