Bracing for Boris Johnson’s next shock statement

by Claude Salhani

The man who railroaded Britain into leaving the European Union is to be the country’s next prime minister, replacing Theresa May, who lost her job along with the Conservative Party’s confidence.

A situation largely brought about by the Brexit dilemma, something to which Boris Johnson, who handily won the Conservative Party election on July 23 that put him in position to be Britain’s prime minister, largely contributed.

Even as a reporter for the British press reporting on the European Union from Brussels, Johnson showed disdain for it in his articles and even made up quotes to suit his stories. That cost him his job at the London Times.

He specialised in exaggerated yarns about the European Union’s plans to truss Britain in red tape. Officials in Brussels who must deal with Johnson as prime minister have not forgotten his role in demonising the European Union.

Johnson thinks of himself as a modern-day Winston Churchill, who will ride into 10 Downing Street and whisk Britain out of its woes, industrial, economic and other.

A more realistic view of Johnson is that he is more likely to turn out to be a British version of US President Donald Trump. May God save the Queen and what is left of the British Empire.

Johnson followed Trump’s example on the road to becoming a political celebrity by copying much of what Trump does, political provocation and having a loose relationship with the truth.

Like Trump, he is fervently pro-Israeli, something that is not likely to help the Palestinians, specifically as long as Trump is in the White House and Binyamin Netanyahu remains in power in Israel.

Much like Trump, Johnson is expected to adopt a staunch hard-line position vis-a-vis Iran but not exactly Washington’s “maximum pressure” approach.

One of the first major issues Johnson will have to confront on assuming leadership of the country is the seizure of a British oil tanker by the Iranian Navy in the Strait of Hormuz. This came about as retaliation for the seizure of an Iranian oil tanker near Gibraltar by British Royal Marines. The Brits said the tanker was carrying contraband oil to Syria.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif congratulated Johnson on his party election win with a warning that Tehran will “protect” its waters. Johnson understands that in Iran’s dictionary “protection” includes seizing vessels and activating proxies. He is likely to try to de-escalate tensions. A British envoy is said to be in Tehran negotiating the release of the seized tanker.

Commenting on the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal signed between the United States and several European countries, an agreement from which Trump withdrew, Johnson has said that, while the nuclear deal was looking “increasingly frail” and ways need to be found to constrain Iran’s “disruptive behaviour,” engaging with the Iranians and seeking to persuade them not to pursue a nuclear weapons programme is the right way forward.

At least where Iran is concerned, he has shown little sign of moving closer to Trump’s hard-line approach, instead saying he agreed with the position of European countries to encourage a return to diplomacy. He has said he would not currently back military action.

“I am not going to pretend that the mullahs of Tehran are easy people to deal with or that they are anything other than a disruptive, dangerous, difficult regime, they certainly are,” he said during a leadership debate.

Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, wasted no time voicing support for Johnson, saying he was looking forward to having a close working relationship with Johnson. No doubt another bitter bullet or poisoned pill for the Palestinians.

Then again, much like Trump, Johnson’s statements are best taken with a grain of salt, at times with a very large grain.

Historian Max Hastings, Johnson’s former editor at London’s Daily Telegraph, has called him “a man of remarkable gifts, flawed by an absence of conscience, principle or scruple.” He could have been just as easily talking about Trump.

Another similarity he has with the American president is that he has no qualms in blaming journalists for “distorting his words.”

Johnson is achieving the dream of a lifetime by moving into 10 Downing Street. Observers warn that it may be a shock.

“Working a crowd is very different from working a government,” historian Peter Hennessy told the BBC. “He’s a remarkable attack journalist. He’s a kind of written version of a shock jock, I’ve always thought, and you can’t govern that way.”

On Islam, in particular, Johnson might be a “shock jock.” The United Kingdom’s Muslim community is bracing for his next outrageous comment about their religion.

Once, he wrote about Islam: “It is the most viciously sectarian of all religions in its heartlessness towards unbelievers.”

“Islam is the problem,’’ he said in an article he wrote for a British newspaper.

His treatment of Islam and Muslims could be a more serious problem.

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