President Trump has poured petrol onto the flames of UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit crisis by coming out for her chief opponent Boris Johnson.
“Boris Johnson’s a friend of mine. He’s been very, very nice to me, very supportive. And I maybe well speak to him when I get over there. I like Boris Johnson, I’ve always liked him.”
This is what diplomats would call a “gaffe.” May, after all, is the leader of the nation to which Trump will shortly be making his first official visit. Johnson, meanwhile, is May’s new public enemy number one. Having just resigned as her Foreign Secretary (in protest at her watered down Brexit plans), he no longer has any status within her government. Yet here is President Trump, publicly proposing to humiliate her by promising face time to a nobody she considers persona non grata.
Sure, Trump found time for some kind words about May too.
“I get along with her very well, I have very good relationship.”
But that’s just polite formula. It’s the Johnson comments that will be noticed – as of course, Trump intended them to be.
To his numerous enemies – in which the UK media abounds: even in the conservative press, Trump coverage is almost uniformly negative – this will seen as yet further evidence that Trump is entirely unsuited to any political office, let alone the leadership of the free world.
To his admirers, though – and I’m definitely one – this is precisely the kind of behaviour that makes Trump one of the most #winning presidents ever.
As his comments show, Trump simply does not care about the narrow issue of whether or not he ruffles the feathers of a cold, distant Prime Minister who clearly finds him mildly distasteful.
What he does care about very, very much is winning the bigger battle on behalf of the people against the globalist elite.
In this light, his outspoken support for Boris Johnson at a crisis moment in UK politics needs to be seen not as a gaffe but a valuable intervention by a friendly ally.
At the weekend, Britain was effectively hijacked by a Remainer coup. This is, of course, a great and wonderful thing if you’re one of the die-hard remoaners who believe that Britain’s best hopes have always lain in being shackled to the corpse of the European socialist superstate. But it’s not good news at all if you’re one of the 17.4 million people who voted for Brexit in the EU referendum and who – having been promised that their decision would be honoured by the government – are now being told that that decision isn’t going to be honoured after all because various pettifogging excuses.
Trump does not want that coup to be successful for a number of obvious reasons, from his friendship with ex-UKIP leader Nigel Farage (whom May has priggishly banned him from seeing on his visit) and his instinctive loathing of the EU project to his sense that the Brexit vote in the UK was the precursor to his own victory in the presidential elections.
Since the Chequers debacle, a lot of people have asked me what my friend Michael Gove was up to when he supported Theresa May in her Brexit sell out.
I do not know. But I’m quite sure the inspiration was not love of Theresa May, nor respect for the ugly stitch-up she had imposed on her cabinet. Presumably he had made the calculation that this was the least bad of all the remaining political options, bearing in mind that whatever happens in these negotiations the final decision is going to be voted on by a Remainer-dominated parliament.
Indeed, what I’m hoping is that he had made a bold and, in its way, admirable calculation: that the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier would prove so intransigent that he would reject even this pathetically emasculated, Europhile, sell-out option – thus paving the way for the “No deal” option, which is probably the best thing that Brexiteers can hope for at this late stage of proceedings.
Now that Boris Johnson has made his move, though, the landscape has changed entirely.
If Theresa May and her enforcers succeed, then Boris will join all the ranks of all those other impetuous, bold, principled but ultimately doomed rebellion leaders who dot British history – who ended up in the Tower of London, awaiting execution. Johnson won’t lose his head, obviously: just what was left of his ambitions to be Prime Minister. Then again, if he hadn’t moved when he did on Monday, it would have been the end of those ambitions anyway. Boris had been in danger of looking like one of politics’s nearly men. Suddenly, he is looking principled, even heroic – the figurehead of the Brexit resistance.
Probably if Trump had sat down with his expert advisors, they could have produced all manner of reasons why a US President, on the eve of a state visit, should never have come out in support of so controversial a figure.
But that’s not how Trump rolls. He shoots from the hip. Boris is a maverick who just staked his all on something that Trump happens to believe in very strongly.
Whether it was the right move politically and strategically, only time will tell. But it was definitely the right move morally.