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Boris Johnson's clowning glory

Rob Mudge
July 23, 2019

The UK got the news on Tuesday that Boris Johnson is the next Tory party leader and is now set to become the country's new prime minister. Rob Mudge asks how it could all go so horribly wrong.

A Boris Johnson blimp flying next to the Houses of Parliament
Image: picture-alliance/NurPhoto/W. Szymanowicz

In 1999, Boris Johnson told his boss, indeed promised, Conrad Black, the owner of the Daily Telegraph newspaper and the Spectator magazine, that he would forgo a political career and instead take the helm as editor of the political weekly.

If only. Conveniently breaking his pledge, Johnson stood as Conservative MP for Henley in Oxford and won the election in 2001.

And thus began Boris' scorched earth odyssey which has brought him to the threshold of No. 10, Downing Street.

The list of egregious lies and calamities, which come so naturally to him, is so long it beggars belief. Just to remind ourselves: This is the man who was forced to apologize for an editorial published in the Spectator under his leadership that wrongly blamed drunk Liverpool supporters for the Hillsborough tragedy in 1989, in which 96 football fans were crushed to death.

In 2003, the leader of the Conservatives, Michael Howard, for reasons probably known only to him, gave Boris two shadow Cabinet positions, party vice-chairman and shadow arts minister. A year later he was sacked after allegations of an affair with a Spectator columnist, which he had described as an "inverted pyramid of piffle," proved to be true.

This is the man who described women wearing burqas as looking like "letter boxes" or "bank robbers." Or telling the electorate that voting for the Tories "will cause your wife to have bigger breasts and increase your chances of owning a BMW M3."

Comments like these have his supporters guffawing with laughter and bolster their belief that he is the antithesis of his boring Westminister colleagues and rivals.

Read moreWho is Boris Johnson, Brexit champion and likely British PM?

EU kidding me?

In 2001 he said the UK should stay in the EU because it had "brought palpable benefits to Britain in free trade and bestowing British citizens the rights of free movement and free establishment in the EU, and withdrawal would mean a potentially worrying loss of influence." Yes, I'm rubbing my eyes in disbelief too. But it gets better. In 2003 he told the House of Commons: "I am a bit of a fan of the European Union. If we did not have one, we would invent something like it."

Read more: Opinion: Boris Johnson in Brussels — visibly invisible

Not entirely sure what he means by "inventing" and I don't really want to know, but at the time it appeared that even he had recognized the upside to being part of the EU.

Only kidding. In 2018 he said staying in the single market was "mad." In 2016 he said he was in favor of it, in 2012 he said he wanted to stay in it, and during the EU referendum his Vote Leave campaign literature claimed: "Britain will have access to the single market after we vote leave."

Talking of which: remember the Launching the Vote Leave bus tour in which he repeated his old allegations that the EU was setting rules on the shape of bananas? And that the UK was sending £350 million (€389 million;$436 million) a week to the EU, followed by "let's fund our National Health Service instead?" This was not true: the net figure is £137 million a week.

Fishy business

Standing in front of red double-decker bus and spewing forth unsubstantiated figures is one thing. Standing on a stage brandishing a smoked herring takes the stand-up routine to another level. Appearing at the final hustings of the Conservative Party's leadership contest last week, he brandished a kipper wrapped in plastic that had come from a fish smoker on the Isle of Man.

Johnson claimed that EU regulations require kipper suppliers to keep their products cool with ice pillows when they are delivered, thus increasing costs. This is not true. EU regulation covers fresh fish, not smoked fish. Indeed, the UK's Food Standard Agency says food manufacturers must transport food so it is fit to eat. This might require a "cool bag." Did I mention that the Isle of Man is not part of the EU?

Leaving aside for a moment the blatant lies, what we should be concerned about is that his buffoonish behavior — which he has honed to perfection — is being gobbled up by many up and down the country. I'll admit that I'm partial to the odd bit of eccentric Englishness but — barring an incredible upset — this is the man whose clowning, er, crowning glory is to be the country's next prime minister.

We've already witnessed the car crash that was his tenure as foreign secretary. Care to imagine how he will handle the current spat between the UK and Iran over the seized UK-flagged tanker in the Gulf? I shudder to think.

I could go on, but my sanity has already taken a beating. The UK is so far up s**t creek that even having 10 paddles wouldn't get it out of this quagmire. The fissures that have emerged over the last three years — not only within the Conservative Party, but throughout the political system and society in general — have left the UK deeply damaged, both domestically and on the international stage. With Boris Johnson as prime minister the abyss awaits.

DW's Rob Mudge is a British-born journalist living in Germany and has followed Brexit developments with great trepidation.

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