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The irreparable damage Boris Johnson inflicts on Britain – Carnegie Europe



Insults, however unfair, tend to stick.

In the early 1790s, as the French Revolution sank into terror, the sympathy it had enjoyed in Britain vanished. Augustin Louis de Ximénès, French writer who defended the excesses of Robespierre, reacted with a poem in which he declared: “Let us attack the perfidious Albion in her waters.”

Peter waiter

Kellner is a Visiting Fellow at Carnegie Europe, where his research focuses on Brexit, populism and electoral democracy.


The insult has rarely been more appropriate than it is today. In his relations with the European Union, Albion has indeed been treacherous.

However, before I dissect what has transpired in recent days, let me reassure readers in Europe and beyond: unlike many in his party, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has no particular animosity towards foreigners. He has betrayed just about everyone in his various lifetimes as a philanderer, journalist, and politician: wives, mistresses, editors, readers, party colleagues, parliament, and the general public. European negotiators are just the latest victims of his unlimited betrayal.

His latest move shouldn’t come as a big surprise either. On September 14 and 22, the House of Commons debates a draft law on the internal market which ministers accept violate international law. If it becomes law, it will allow Britain to ignore key provisions of the withdrawal agreement it struck with the EU less than a year ago, in January 2020.

This is not the first time that the Prime Minister has tried to evade the commitments he made during the winter of 2019-2020.

In April, British ministers told the EU they wanted to tone down Britain’s commitment to geographical indications (GI) – rules that protect the names and regional origins of products ranging from champagne to Parma ham. In the Withdrawal Agreement, the UK agreed to continue to observe the 3,000 GIs in the EU. Now he wants to reopen an issue the EU thought was settled.

Moreover, Johnson never wanted to uphold the principle – contained in the political statement on the future relationship that accompanied the Withdrawal Agreement – that UK companies should abide by the EU’s fair competition rules.

Its chief Brexit negotiator, David Frost, has made clear that Britain wanted to decide its own rules, especially on state aid. Technically, the United Kingdom would be within its rights: the political declaration is not a formal treaty and therefore has no legal force. But Johnson was certainly guilty of acting in bad faith.

Johnson’s last movement therefore corresponds to a model. Whether it is his personal behavior over four decades or, more recently, his cavalier attitude towards formal commitments he has made to the EU, his record yells: don’t trust this man.

That’s not all.

What we are seeing are not just the faults of an unprincipled man, but a huge shift in the nature of center-right politics in Britain.

The party in power is called the Conservative Party for a reason. Historically, he has sought to protect the best of the past from the desire for change. He has always recognized what various curators over the years have called “the authority of tradition”.

On the other side of British politics are reformers who want to get rid of old and often deep injustices. Over the past hundred years this has been the central objective of the Labor Party; before that, the torch was held by the Liberal Party.

The never-ending struggle between tradition and reform has provided the central tension at the heart of British politics for two centuries.

Not anymore. Not only does Johnson disrespect nearly everyone who comes into his life; he lacks respect for the traditions which so far have dominated his party’s outlook. Instead, he is a revolutionary insurgent, much closer to Vladimir Lenin than to Winston Churchill.

Of course, he doesn’t put it that way himself, but Dominic Cummings, his senior advisor and the architect of his political strategy, does. Earlier this year, a long analysis of Cummings’ career by a respected BBC journalist reported the influence of Lenin and, in particular, Lenin’s opinion that “you cannot make a revolution in white gloves”.

To take just one example, Cummings explicitly wants to transform the UK civil service from a repository of wisdom and experience into a ram for radical change. In June he Told officials that a “hard rain will come” for the British Mandarin class.

Already six permanent secretaries – the highest ranking UK civil servant – have been sacked or forced to resign, mostly for political reasons, defying the basic agreement that civil servants are politically neutral and that in return their independence and their neutrality are expected. . In recent times, Johnson and Cummings have also targeted the BBC, the judiciary and virtually anyone who opposes Brexit. The EU is in great company.

Certainly, a growing minority of conservatives fear that this will all end in tears. Over the past few days, Johnson has fallen out with three former party leaders: Theresa May, Michael Howard and John Major. And just as the insult “treacherous Albion” dates back to Robespierre’s time, so do the warnings to defy tradition. Edmund Burke is widely regarded as the father of British conservatism. In Reflections on the revolution in France, he wrote:

Plausible projects with good beginnings often lead to shameful and dismal conclusions. . . . a man would have to be infinitely careful to tear down an edifice which has for centuries satisfied the common goals of society to a tolerable degree. . . When that [respect for tradition] is extinguished in the minds of men, plots and assassinations will be anticipated by preventive murder and preventive confiscation… Kings will be tyrants of politics when subjects are rebels on principle.

Twenty-first-century Britain is not eighteenth-century France; Johnson is not Robespierre. But Democrats have reason to be concerned, even without the specific terror of the guillotine.

If Johnson is successful with this new bill – and he has a large majority in the House of Commons – Britain is in the early stages of a profound and potentially dangerous upheaval, which the current conflict with the EU does not is just one item. You – we – have been warned.

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