With Trump gone, Britain is now the world’s leading international embarrassment

Boris Johnson is a clapped-out joker from a clapped-out land

Tom Peck
Political Sketch Writer
Thursday 23 September 2021 18:07
Boris Johnson makes Kermit the frog joke at UN meeting: 'Easy being green'

So that was Global Britain, then, in all its tremulous glory. In five days in America, at the United Nations and at the White House, Boris Johnson did his usual thing, indeed the only thing he can do, which was to lean against the wall of the world stage and spaff out his trademark repertoire of insulting jokes, tedious metaphors and easily demonstrable lies.

It was by no means easy viewing. There have been so many of these visits over the years. The outward spectacle doesn’t especially change – the flags, the Oval Office, the somewhat passe green marble backdrop of the United Nations General Assembly hall – which makes the inner reality glaringly impossible to ignore.

These are the rarefied environments in which great leaders occasionally say or do great things. And they are also the environments in which poor ones find it very easy to embarrass themselves. Which is what Boris Johnson, and as such Britain, most certainly did. With Trump gone, Britain is now the world’s leading international embarrassment.

It’s very much unclear whether anybody at all voted for Brexit because they wanted Britain to get its identity back and forge its own path in the world. These arguments, the “out and into the world” stuff, were, after all, the old eurosceptic arguments of 50 years ago, favoured by the old eurosceptics like Bill Cash and John Redwood and all the dreary rest of them. Dominic Cummings, almost certainly correctly, thought they were mad, that these were the arguments that would not win, so he scrapped it all in favour of deliberately incendiary garbage about Turkey and the NHS. What followed is now history.

So it’s not clear, really, whether anyone beyond Boris Johnson himself cares very much about Britain as a global statesperson. Brexit was the single most insular act any major country has undertaken in a hundred years or more, so the fact it is now making a circus clown of itself in front of a watching world is unlikely to especially bother anyone who voted for it.

The rest of us, sadly, do have to suffer somewhat. If you’re at all interested in politics, it is very hard indeed to go through the motions of paying attention to it, the events, the speeches, the assembled content for the news channels, because at its heart is a man who has not merely got nothing of any interest to say, but is strategically and deliberately committed to never saying anything of any interest whatsoever.

After a few months or years of Donald Trump, most people stopped caring, or at least stopped being shocked, by the constant lying. Does anyone care all that much that Boris Johnson doesn’t pause for breath before telling journalists that in a 90-minute conversation with Joe Biden, the subject of the Northern Ireland Protocol wasn’t raised? And then the White House publishes its read out from the meeting and states in clear and certain terms that it absolutely was raised and discussed at length?

Does anyone care that Boris Johnson casually claimed that the Dutch prime minister had offered to mediate in talks over the Northern Ireland Protocol, only for the Dutch prime minister to make it clear that he hadn’t? Is anyone even counting any more the flurries of middleweight lies that must be told just to get through to the next part of the day?

That Boris Johnson can’t stop himself, indeed doesn’t want to stop himself, from throwing out a few lines of “franglais” with regard to the ongoing row over the nuclear submarine deal hardly even matters. It’s toe-curling, course it is.

‘Donnez-moi un break,’ Boris Johnson tells France over Aukus submarine deal

It’s not merely what you get from having a columnist for a prime minister. It’s also what you get from having a columnist prime minister who’s more than a little bit past it. Boris Johnson is 57. Not many columnists make it that far, for no greater reason than they’ve used up all their lines and find themselves with nothing relevant to say about the times they haven’t managed to keep up with.

“Donnez-moi un break,” as Johnson jovially told Emmanuel Macron, was possibly passably amusing when he first said it in the Daily Telegraph in 1994. Marjorie and the Major may even have let out a little titter over the toast and marmalade as they read it, back then, in a world that doesn’t really exist any more.

For those of us who have to pay attention to this stuff, it is painful to have to be able to see directly through it. Boris Johnson was writing climate change denial journalism as recently as 2015. And yet here he is, standing up in front of the world, telling it it has to change, through the medium of his usual wearisome schtick. Humanity has reached adolescence, it has found the keys to the drinks cabinetKermit the Frog was wrong. It IS easy being green.

An actual world statesman, after a fashion, finding that the only voice he can draw upon is that of the juvenile newspaper columnist, cracking two-bit jokes to a world that absolutely doesn’t care.

People aren’t stupid. They listen to politicians, to leaders, when they know they’ve got something to say. Why should they even so much as glance up from their busy lives to listen to the dreary pseudo-impassioned rubbish of a two-minutes-to-midnight climate change convert, who was denying the clear scientific evidence about it all for most of the past 20 years, and when challenged on it, just shuffles out whatever lie will do?

And that, really, is the thing. It’s only us that has to listen to this stuff, to parse it for meaning, to analyse it for merit, or potential electoral significance. The rest of the world just doesn’t care.

It wasn’t always this way. Tony Blair… Gordon Brown… Margaret Thatcher… they made significant contributions to the world at crucial points in history, not necessarily always for the better. Johnson has changed his country arguably far more than any of them. But the international consequences are clear to see, and they are fitting enough. In that regard, he is certainly the right man for the hour. A clapped-out joker from a clapped-out land, a boring throwback from a country that decided it was too scared of the future to take part in it.

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