‘A new nadir’ for Britain: How Europe’s press reacted to ‘shameless clown’ Boris Johnson taking control

‘A proud country dwarfs itself’ – what the continent is saying about the UK’s new prime minister

Jon Stone
Europe Correspondent
Wednesday 24 July 2019 08:56
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Public react as Boris Johnson becomes Conservative leader

Europe’s newspapers reacted with a mixture of disbelief, mockery, and depression at the news that Boris Johnson is to become British prime minister.

In a strident editorial the Irish Times refers to Mr Johnson’s victory as “a new nadir” for the UK. The newspaper warned that the best hope for Ireland, Europe and “British citizens themselves – is that Johnson as prime minister will be guided by three of his worst traits, which together have defined his career: he doesn’t mean a word he says, he is obsessed with power and he is willing to betray those closest to him in the pursuit of that power”.

Over the North Sea, leading Danish broadsheet Politiken ran a leader column claiming that like US president Donald Trump, Mr Johnson has “built his entire career on shameless lies and extreme self-promotion”.

Bearing the headline “That a clown like Boris Johnson is set to become prime minister in the UK shows just how low the country has fallen since the Brexit referendum”, the editorial says British people deserve better leadership.

“The British people deserve much, much better political leadership than what they’ve got. And now one of the worst is becoming prime minister,” the newspaper writes.

“Johnson’s victory is the epitome of injustice. It’s an obscene ascent to power.”

Belgian French-language newspaper Le Soir carries a mocking cartoon of a Mr Johnson as a clown walking a tightrope, juggling balls that say “Brexit”, “Ireland”, “Scotland”, “Iran”. A gleeful Donald Trump looks on and applauds, while European leaders such as Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron look less depressed. Flemish newspaper De Morgen says the EU is “not afraid” of Mr Johnson.

German newspaper Berliner Zeitung runs an opinion column from its UK correspondent headlined: “He has led people astray and the country into chaos”. Describing the development as “disturbing”, the comment piece notes: “Above all, the new prime minister is good at one thing: always promising people what they want to hear.” Meanwhile leading title Die Zeit’s coverage says Mr Johnson “has no plan” for Brexit and wonders whether he will start a war with Iran.

German news magazine Der Spiegel‘s front page features a picture of a dishevelled Boris Johnson with the headline “MAD in England”. Assessing the situation on Wednesday, its political editor, suggests the new prime minister’s slogan should be “Make Britain Small Again”.

In an analysis piece, the editor writes: “A proud country dwarfs itself. Betrayed and sold by populists. Paying for the Brexit and the consequences in the end, especially those so-called ‘little people’ who were seduced by Johnson and Co. An unequal society will become more unequal.” The analysis adds that at least Mr Johnson’s ascension to prime minister will at least be an application of “the polluter pays principle” because of the politician’s role in the Brexit campaign.

French newspaper Le Figaro says “a series of pitfalls” await Mr Johnson while Liberation carries a profile of Mr Johnson describing him as “future jester to the queen”.

“Boris Johnson goes nose-to-wind and, like a chameleon, adapts his positions according to the moment, relying on his interpersonal skills, and perhaps his luck,” the newspaper’s UK correspondent writes.

“For a long time, his eccentricity and his sense of self-deprecation, traits regarded as the essence of the English spirit, seemed to save him from everything, giving him the benefit of the doubt, or even preventing him from drawing up the true balance sheet of his actions.

“This is no longer the case, especially since its prominent role in the leave campaign . As he prepares to occupy the highest office of the state and to engage in difficult discussions with his European allies, the indulgence will not necessarily be appropriate.”

Swiss newspaper of record Neue Zurcher Zeitung runs a column from its UK correspondent warning that premiership “will not be easy” for the incoming prime minister, warning: “From the situation in which he has manoeuvred, there is no apparent way out.”

In Spain, El Pais‘s correspondent judges that “the most extravagant character that British politics has given in decades will have the destiny of the country in his hands”.

“This time, he’ll be in a position where his actions have real consequences,” it says.

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