Voices: Global Britain? Boris Johnson left us looking unreliable, unstable and increasingly irrelevant

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Brexit and the protocol also are having a considerable impact on relations with Washington (Getty)
Brexit and the protocol also are having a considerable impact on relations with Washington (Getty)

Boris Johnson was a very consistent prime minister; he was appalling at home and disastrous on the world stage. As he reluctantly shuffles away from power, he leaves behind a Britain that is now seen as unreliable, unstable and increasingly irrelevant.

Far from being a patriot who promotes “Global Britain” and wraps himself in the Union flag at any given opportunity, he has been a political leader who has helped further diminish Britain’s standing in the world.

Like most things in recent British politics, that fall from grace can be attributed to Brexit and its toxic fallout abroad. And as Johnson was the single most effective champion of Brexit at home, the shambolic symbol of a generational mess, it is only right that he should have been the one to deal with the havoc it has wrought. It is also only too predictable that it was beyond his ability.

Unfortunately for his successor, Johnson has ensured it is they who will have to try and resolve those big problems.

The new PM will inherit a mess on Europe. You can leave the EU but you cannot cut ties, and even another pro-Brexit PM will have to ensure a much better relationship with Brussels, Berlin and Paris. The economic ramifications will only get worse and so his successor will need to do something about that during a cost-of-living crisis, whatever the knee jerk response is to dealing with the bloc.

Separately, the Tories show no understanding of the “Irish issue”, and merely wish it to go away. It won’t and it can’t. The new prime minister will have to finally resolve a stubborn border issue that they have refused to address seriously, or openly. Any more threats to invoke, unilaterally, the Northern Ireland Protocol will show that the Tories have disappeared fully into some post-Trumpian wormhole. Playing to the crowd at home rarely makes for successful long term foreign policy. But Johnson tried to make most things about Brexit at home, he did the same on the world stage. Neither worked.

Brexit and the protocol also are having a considerable impact on relations with Washington. There has been no trade agreement with the world’s biggest economy yet, despite many promises, and any threat to the Good Friday Agreement will mean that will remain the case. The world has fundamentally recognised that Brexit is the root cause of all these problems, Britain’s current rulers seem either unwilling, unable or just too stubborn to recognise the same.

Beyond Europe, Johnson’s impact was minimal. Despite Britain “resetting” itself globally, little was achieved. He had a penchant for nostalgia but no idea on how to achieve anything for Britain of the future. A couple of embarrassing trade deals with Australia and New Zealand, desperate visits to the Gulf for gas, and attempts to increase markets for our weapons, and virtual invisibility elsewhere. Where was Global Britain’s enhanced role in Africa, Asia or Latin America?

He smirked his way through a trip to India, annoyed many by insensitively climbing on bulldozers the day after a clear out of Muslim areas using the same vehicles, but has not yet got his trade deal.

Afghanistan was such a disaster that it even led Theresa May to ask, “Where was Global Britain?” His interaction with Africa seemed to revolve around sending asylum seekers to Rwanda, and pushing the controversial Central African state into the media spotlight, much to its anger.

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Ukraine has been Johnson’s one success, but any praise needs to be tempered. He and his party were instrumental for long talking to and taking money from Russian oligarchs, the very people who have enabled Vladimir Putin to secure an authoritarian state which represents a danger to the whole of Europe. Ukraine has cross-party support so whoever replaces Johnson will keep the same position, it was not just him, and it also played into so many Tory tropes: strong Britain, flexible post-Brexit Britain, that it was an easy win for the outgoing PM, as he sought to ape Thatcher and Churchill.

Even then, his opportunistic use of President Zelensky to deflect from any self-induced Westminster disaster was pretty shameless. But, of course it was, this is Boris Johnson. His supporters champion his personality as one of his strengths. Good Old Boris. But it is precisely this which has counted against him on the world stage, and left a stain on Britain’s standing.

Long after the numerous policy disasters, it is his blustering, two-faced, shambolic personality which has damaged Britain. Being unreliable and breaking international law is bad enough, but Good Old Boris has made the UK look frivolous, infantile, a child in a grown-up world. The in-tray he has left for his successor is full of Johnson’s own mistakes.

His leaving cannot come soon enough.

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