Under Boris Johnson, Brexit Britain is becoming Donald Trump's poodle – Henry McLeish

Boris Johnson must see that Donald Trump’s America no longer leads the Western alliance and is putting the EU, Nato and the containment of Russia under severe strain, writes Henry McLeish
Donald Trump sought to claim credit for Boris Johnson's decision to ban China's Huawei telecoms firm (Picture: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty ImagesDonald Trump sought to claim credit for Boris Johnson's decision to ban China's Huawei telecoms firm (Picture: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
Donald Trump sought to claim credit for Boris Johnson's decision to ban China's Huawei telecoms firm (Picture: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Not for the first time in his presidency has Donald Trump, posing as an ally of Britain, humiliated a Conservative Prime Minister. Last week, in the Rose Garden of the White House, speaking on the UK’s ban on Huawei, the President claimed that, “he had convinced, many countries, many countries. I did this myself”.

This is classic Trump, but post-Brexit there are more worrying currents swirling around this issue, as the UK shapes its new role in geo-politics. A British Prime Minister looking for scraps from the White House table – and trying to create the impression that his brave new Britain, outside the EU, is in the making – is problematic.

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Boris Johnson’s ban on the Chinese telecommunications giant, Huawei, raises serious questions about the idea of an independent “Global Britain”, suggests an over-eagerness to grovel to US interests, panders to Trump’s anti-China election-campaign obsession and highlights his willingness to pay any price for a trade deal with America, post-Brexit.

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Blaming China for the pandemic, Trump is furious about “the Communists” derailing his re-election hopes. UK foreign policy should, however, never be based on the tantrums of Trump.

Britain’s transatlantic relations with the US are important on a broad range of fronts, including security. But when the wisdom of pushing ahead with the current Brexit timetable is being seriously questioned and a health emergency, a deep recession, and the prospect of mass unemployment are testing our national resilience, caution is required in resetting our future relations with China and the US.

Instead, we are leaving the security and stability of the EU to move closer to the US. Despite the provocations of President Xi Jinping over Hong Kong, Taiwan, the South China Sea, incursions into India, human right abuses of ethnic groups, including the Uighurs, and an increasingly aggressive and imperialist foreign policy, dialogue and restraint are still required.

Struggling with a rapidly changing and dangerous world, our Government looks vulnerable, lacking any sense of clarity or purpose, in navigating a new future.

Last week Michael Gove laid to rest the myth of frictionless trade, post-Brexit – disconcerting at a time when bilateral trade talks between the UK and the US and the EU are going nowhere. The growing gap between what the UK needs and what is on offer from the Government is the result of incompetence, ideology, delusion and intent to deceive.

Tied to the coattails of the US, the Government is failing to grasp the seriousness of a fragile world order, and is unable to cast aside the lure of greatness that lurks behind ludicrous claims of heaven on Earth if only we could only rid ourselves of this turbulent EU.

The language of Brexit is peppered with Trumpisms such as “Making Britain Great Again”, but mainly England, “regain our sovereignty”, “taking our country back”, and “Britain First”. Particularly ironic is the idea of “taking back control”. This rhetoric appears to be in tatters as we abandon the EU and move closer to the US.

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But there is more to this than the mere refreshing of a fading post-war “special relationship”. The political DNA of Conservative governments and their backbenchers keeps them trapped in Britain’s glory days of colonies and Empire where the sun never sets when we, as the US seeks to today, ruled the waves and ran the world.

Many right-leaning Conservative MPs are over-enthusiastic about the Americanisation of our society and economy, based on an unfettered free market, and a curious mix of cultural conservatism and libertarianism. They are determined to extend and deepen the existing transatlantic partnership: becoming de facto the 51st state of America, or at least a US territory.

The Huawei decision was influenced by approximately 60 Tory MPs who threated to revolt if Johnson did not change his mind. There is a chilling similarity to the Brexiteers who made life hell for Theresa May. After having terminated our membership of the EU, are they now moving on to Part Two of the Leave strategy, binding the UK closer to America? My ballot paper, in 2016, had no mention of this proposition! Hidden from public view, this was the great deceit of the Leave campaign. Wedged between the rock of a mutinous pro-American and anti-China group of Tories and the hard place of the erratic Trump and his US foreign policy, Johnson must clear his mind. Further problems can be expected from this awkward squad. Trump, admired by many Conservative MPs, is neither stable, nor reliable, and could win a second term.

Controlling the White House and Congress, the Democratic Party will view the UK in a different light. The Democrats regard the UK as one amongst many of the US’s special relationships, and remain concerned about the Brexit implications for Northern Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement. They will certainly give a higher priority to an EU-US trade deal over one with the UK. Joe Biden’s views on China differ markedly from those of Trump and Mike Pompeo.

The UK must be more open-minded about its place in global politics. Rafael Behr, a Guardian columnist quoted on the Muck Rack website, said: “UK trade is a blank sheet of paper. And Donald Trump is holding the pen”, and “the flaw in Brexit, is that the sovereignty the UK covets buys no clout in Washington, Beijing or anywhere else”. Johnson must see that Trump’s America no longer leads the Western alliance and is putting the EU, Nato and the containment of Russia under severe strain.

Casting off the millstone of delusion around his Government and binning the ideological baggage of his hardline Brexiteers, the Prime Minister needs a vision.

John Donne’s poem, written in 1624, “No Man is an Island, Entire of Itself”, highlighted interdependence, shared aspirations and the fact that no one is self-sufficient.

In the Financial Times, Philip Stevens wrote, “that the castaway, alone on a desert island, may be sovereign over all he or she surveys, but is also impotent. A sovereign nation understands that to share what it has in order to get more cannot be an act of weakness, but great strength.”

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After the loss of Empire and then, in an act of national self-harm, losing the EU, the UK has not yet found a role. Boris Johnson needs to find one. Remaining close to the EU, and being wary of the US, would be a good place to start.

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