Brexit: How Boris Johnson is causing real damage to UK’s good reputation – Kenny MacAskill

Boris Johnson and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have not always seen eye to eye. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Boris Johnson and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have not always seen eye to eye. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
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Boris Johnson’s rude, arrogant and undiplomatic antics over Brexit will change the international perception of the UK as an open and friendly place, writes Kenny MacAskill.

Boris Johnson seems satisfied that everything’s going according to script. He and his Brexiteer cohorts having taken over the Tory Party, they are blaming the EU for no-deal and, despite a catalogue of indiscretions or worse, are ahead in the polls.

A pro-EU demonstrator outside Scotland's Court of Session where judges were considering a legal challenge designed to force Boris Johnson to obey the new Benn Act law (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire)

A pro-EU demonstrator outside Scotland's Court of Session where judges were considering a legal challenge designed to force Boris Johnson to obey the new Benn Act law (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire)

Whatever Tony Blair may say, it’s hard to see a second referendum preceding an election. Timescales for the former are significantly longer than a snap election.

In any event why leave Johnson in office during the conduct of a further plebiscite? More importantly, governance is required and with the Tories having lost their majority but the opposition incapable of coalescing, it’s to the polls we must go.

However, as with all scripts, whether film or politics, it’s what the audience make of it that matters.

For Johnson, with his short-term thinking, it’s all about positioning for that election and a UK electorate. But the show is being relayed around the globe and translated into numerous languages. In most, if not all, there’s a mixture of incredulity at the foolishness or growing anger at British crassness. How not to win friends and influence people.

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The supposed munificence of Trump’s American trade deal has been superseded by threats of tariffs on whisky and goodness knows what else. So much for the special relationship.

Meanwhile the Japanese are far too polite to say anything but are simply walking away – taking their car industry with them. Brexit-voting Sunderland, along with other duped areas, is going to pay a heavy price.

Even amongst those countries we’re told by Brexiteers are awaiting us with outstretched arms there’s scepticism. Just a few days ago the former Australian PM Julia Guillard warned not only would a deal be far from simple but added: “I do worry that people are starting to imagine that a trade deal with Australia is somehow a substitute for being on the doorstep of a market with 500 million people. It’s not.”

That put a clear damper on those pledging an early return to the glory days of empire and highlighted just what we stand to lose from leaving.

Legacy of animosity

But it’s in the EU that the real damage is being done. Whilst not quite from the Trump school of diplomacy – see the president’s incredible Turkey tweet – Number 10’s reaction to the phone call with Angela Merkel was far from tactful.

Not only is any lingering capital the UK possessed in the EU being “spaffed against a wall” – to borrow a line from Johnson himself – but a legacy of animosity is being left.

That’s a big problem for Johnson in that even if he succeeds in his plan and wins again, he’s still got to get a deal, if not to leave then for future trade.

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As all experts agree, the current difficulties are simply the beginning of a very long and even more fractious negotiations. To have so alienated those to whom you’ll be beholden is not just poor negotiations but incredibly stupid.

Anger is now rising in the EU, who just want Britain out. That’s not just from those who might have been viewed historically as, if not hostile, then at least competitive.

It’s now extending well beyond.

The ever-sanguine and diplomatic Merkel must be gobsmacked and outraged at the effrontery in the briefing of her call. Not only were all international protocols binned but she was openly maligned.

Always impeccably polite

Attempts to undermine the EU from within by buying off a truculent east or central European member are doomed to fail. There’s nothing that Johnson can offer Hungary or anyone else that would offset the price they’d pay for breaking ranks.

Instead the UK is going to find itself confronting an angry but powerful organisation, seething with contempt. Hardly the recipe for getting cake and eating it.

Diplomacy’s a skill, even an art. I’ve dealt with numerous representatives from US Secretaries of State, through EU ministers and ambassadors, to those from states including Israel and Libya.

Whilst some I never trusted, they were always impeccably polite. Not only in their behaviour when meeting or in contact but in following protocol before and after. That’s the way of the diplomatic world. The buffoonery of Johnson and the bombast of Brexiteers goes down like a lead balloon and there’ll be blow back because of it.

But the damage goes beyond diplomatic difficulties and will affect us all. Attitudes towards the UK are changing. No more will it be the go-to destination with its people seen as open and friendly.

A mixture of dislike and derision is growing, which as with Americans will often be unfair. Ironically, the first to feel it may be Brexit-voting ex-pats. But we’ll all pay a price as Europe reacts to British rudeness and arrogance.