Trump and Johnson on the world stage. What could possibly go wrong?

Sometimes I feel like I just want to get a big, soft cushion with Obama’s face on it to hide behind every time the news comes on after 20th January next year.

The US electorate has put a Twitter troll in charge. You would think that the person in the most powerful job in the world would have better things to do than take to social media to respond to every tiny criticism of him. The other day, for example, he said this of his call with Taiwan’s leader:

I am no fan of China’s government, to put it mildly, and I certainly didn’t like the way Alex Salmond pandered to it by refusing to meet the Dalai Lama when he came to Scotland a few years ago. That’s not the point, though. It’s the taking to Twitter to argue the toss every five minutes. It’s the way he can say one thing one minute and then change his mind. Have a listen to this week’s Media Show on Radio 4 where you have the chairman of the New York Times describe a bizarre exchange with Donald Trump around his recent visit to the paper which has severely criticised him.  One minute he was calling them “the failing NY Times” on Twitter, the next fawning all over them.

But it’s not as if we are particularly fantastic on the diplomatic front either. Boris does tend to open his mouth and say what he thinks at any given moment without checking to see if he is in line with British Government policy. I’d be the first one to stand up and criticise the Saudi administration and in much stronger terms than he did. But the world of international diplomacy doesn’t cope well with mixed messages.

Boris has been slapped down loads of times for shooting his mouth off and he hasn’t even been in the job for 5 months. Amber Rudd had to remind him of his place when he whined about Brexit not happening fast enough. Then Theresa May slapped him down for spilling the beans on Article 50 before she did. Then Downing Street played down what Boris said about us “probably” leaving the customs union.  This is what we should expect to happen, though, given that he turned out to have given away the Article 50 timetable.

Tom Brake, our shadow Foreign Secretary, joked that Boris had been slapped down more times than Baldrick from Blackadder:

Boris Johnson has now been slapped down almost as many times as Baldrick in Blackadder.

He’s right to criticise Saudi Arabia’s record, but will be deservedly branded a hypocrite if he now toes the government line this weekend.

His comments have exposed the duplicity and division at the heart of this Conservative Brexit government.

Paddy Ashdown was a wee bit more direct in a tweet:

Both Trump and Johnson make loose cannon look stable and disciplined. The next few years are certainly going to be interesting.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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11 Comments

  • Eddie Sammon 8th Dec '16 - 9:47pm

    I would have gone further than Boris and Trump, although worded it more professionally (and resigned in the case of Boris).

    I want a pro democratic foreign policy where we tell our allies Saudi, China and Israel that things are changing and I would remain a tough posture (but not militaristic) with our non-allies Iran, Russia, North Korea etc.

    It’s not economic suicide because Europe, America and elsewhere dominate the globe and we can prosper if we stand by our true allies rather than support them one minute and undermine them the next.

  • Oddly enough it’s possible to say Boris was crass in this case – and also- that Boris told the truth. What is happening in the Yemen is appalling and the way successive British Governments have cosied up to Saudi and the arms trade leaves a very bad taste. Fergul Keane’s report on the Yemen was devastating.

    I guess Paddy may be right that Boris may be toast, but it’s a tricky one for May who has looked extremely flaky herself in recent times. Better in the tent – or will she tell Boris Exit means Exit ?

    In the last PMQ’s May took she looked extremely shaky and surprisingly Corbyn got the better of her.

    It’s going to be a very interesting next few years – if we all survive !!

  • Eddie Sammon 8th Dec '16 - 10:32pm

    May has to sack Boris, even if I agree with him, because she has lost control of her foreign policy. The cabinet isn’t big enough for the both of them.

    Cheers will go around Europe if Boris is sacked. He should have just resigned to save himself the humiliation. We’ll see what happens. Maybe give the job back to William Hague.

  • Arnold Kiel 8th Dec '16 - 10:52pm

    Dear Caron,

    how true. While Mr. Johnson’s approach to representing NATO’s second nuclear power should not surprise anybody, it is worthwile reflecting again on his nomination.

    I believe it is fair to assume that Ms. May despises and does not enjoy working with him. The resulting message to the world is: I am a domestically-orientated PM; I have given no consideration to how my foreign secretary nomination might be perceived by you; I have used this important post to “reward” a liar for a “domestic achievement” you hate (except Putin, LePen…).

    There was no worse way to embark on redefining Britain’s role in the world. The more important failure here is the Prime Minister.

  • Do you want politicians to say things you agree with or not? If Boris was a Lib Dem this site would be tripping over itself to defend him.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 8th Dec '16 - 11:14pm

    Caron is right to highlight the personalities involved, but I am strongly with the two colleagues , Eddie and David .

    The best thing Trump did was so far , take the call of our Liberal International friend , the elected President of Taiwan ,protocol is nonsense if it means being rude to the good and decent rather than the most powerful. I like the way in this instance Trump didn’t give a da…! But a statement or speech , like the late lamented Robin Cook when new as Foreign Secretary , we all could support more.

    Again Boris is correct in view on this , but like the boy who cried wolf we can’t take him as seriously .

    We need politicians do say and do what is right . Salmond is and was terrible re; the Dalai Lama , even Cameron and Obama were too diplomatic re; China.

    We do not have to be wimps due to Nixon in China !

  • Matt (Bristol) 8th Dec '16 - 11:40pm

    Whatever Boris Johnson said and the merits or demerits of it, the fact that repeatedly over the last few months the Foreign Secretary has made a speech or written an article and then had his statement immediately disowned by No 10, is pretty unprecedented.

    Whilst May playing Queen Victoria to Boris’ Palmerston might be entertaining, it’s a pretty daft way to start a major international negotiation with no clear constitutional or agreed international process or precedent.

    I had half a mind to start a petition on the government website calling for more clarity on when the Foreign Secretary is and isn’t speaking for the Government: when he is speaking as a private person and voicing his own views, there should be a clear visual sign that can be captured on camera – I suggest a little conical cap with a prominent ‘B’ for Boris.

  • Conor McGovern 9th Dec '16 - 12:24am

    Obama’s hardly the radical progressive liberal revolutionary. Stuff Trump, Farage and Le Pen. Yes, we need a shakeup and yes, we need the forgotten heard but, if not by populists, by the likes of real liberals and radicals in power. Will it ever happen?

  • Conor McGovern 9th Dec '16 - 12:25am

    I hope so.

  • Since when did BoJo care about Human Rights? He just wants to make the news.

  • Please don’t let’s too carried away by Johnson….

    At the weekend Boris was on TV defending the Saudi involvement in Yemen….

    As always, Boris backs both sides and the middle…

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