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Boris Johnson and Donald Trump: World leaders “cut from the same cloth?”

Stephen Beard Aug 22, 2019
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Then-British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and U.S. President Donald Trump greet each other before a United Nations meeting in New York in 2017.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

Britain’s new Prime Minister Boris Johnson will this weekend attend the G-7 summit in Biarritz and, for the first time in his official capacity as premier, meet with U.S. President Donald Trump. 

It is likely to be a cordial encounter; Trump has strongly supported Brexit since the UK voted leave the European Union more than three years ago, and often speaks highly of Johnson. The same is true of Johnson on Trump.

But how firm is that friendship? Are the two really such kindred spirits? 

Jack Peat, editor of The London Economic. (Stephen Beard/Marketplace)

“They do have a lot in common,” said Jack Peat, editor of a left-wing online newspaper, The London Economic. “They are very much cut from the same cloth,” he said.

Peat regards both men as opportunists “capitalizing on the nationalist upheaval that has enveloped the Western world.”

Trump emphasized — again — his affinity with the new prime minister when he welcomed Johnson’s elevation to the premiership.

“They’re saying,  ‘Britain Trump,'” the President said in July. “They’re calling him ‘Britain Trump.’ That’s a good thing. They like me over there. That’s what they wanted. That’s what they need.”

In Britain, some commentators feel Trump’s support of Brexit will help Johnson to secure a free trade deal with the U.S., which would be valuable to the UK upon departing the EU.

Andrew Gimson. (Stephen Beard/Marketplace)

According to Andrew Gimson, contributing editor with center-right blog Conservative Home, Trump’s personal endorsement won’t do Johnson any political harm.

“There are quite a lot of people in Britain who do admire Trump. I mean ordinary voters, very far away from fashionable dinner tables. Many of them think that Trump is strong and stands up for America,” Gimson said.

Opponents of Johnson, however, have mocked what they regard as a transatlantic love-in. Harking back to Boris’s days at Eton, Britain’s most elite private school, the new leader of pro-EU party the Liberal Democrats, Jo Swinson, tweeted:

 “Boris Johnson is basically what you’d get if you sent Donald Trump to Eton.”

Gimson, who wrote a 2006 biography of Johnson, agreed that the two men have much in common. Both come from privileged backgrounds and yet are now tapping into a powerful mood of anti-elitism. Both are described as “maverick,” and both have won support on a promise to revive national pride.

“Boris wants to restore national sovereignty. Trump wants to make America great again. When he was mayor of London, Boris said: ‘Let’s make this the greatest city in the world.’ Now, as prime minister of the UK, he wants the UK to be the greatest country. They both speak the language of greatness,”  Gimson said.  

Ruth Gregory, senior economist at consulting firm Capital Economics, points out that the leaders have different attitudes to trade. Johnson, unlike Trump, is a committed free-trader.

“The UK is likely to remain relatively open to trade, compared to the more protectionist stance in the U.S.,” Gregory told Marketplace.

Then there’s the vexing subject of immigration, on which Johnson is very liberal. He supports amnesty for half a million illegal migrants and has been highly critical of the U.S. president’s approach. When Trump was running for office in 2015 and first called for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S., Johnson did not hide his disdain.

“I think Donald Trump is clearly out of his mind if he thinks that’s a sensible way to proceed,” Johnson said, adding that Trump’s claim that parts of London had become no-go areas due to the presence of Muslim extremists revealed what he called “a stupefying ignorance that makes him unfit to hold the office of President.”  

The two men clearly share a taste for straight talking. Johnson, focused on Brexit and eager for that free trade deal with the U.S., must be hoping that his new best friend missed some of those statements.

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