Johnson needs to learn from Thatcher

by David Hannay | 14.11.2016

Boris Johnson’s reasons for staying away from last night’s first discussion in the EU of how to react to Donald Trump’s election victory (unlike those of the French foreign minister who was receiving the incoming secretary-general of the UN in Paris) were unconvincing in the extreme, as well as being irresponsible. Moreover they flatly contradicted the Prime Minister’s correct observation that we remain a member of the EU with full rights and responsibilities until the day we leave.

To rub salt in the wound the EU’s high representative for Foreign and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, riposted that it would have been odder if he had attended given Britain’s impending withdrawal , ignoring the fact that we will be in the EU for more than half of Trump’s four-year term.

Johnson seems to think that even hinting at Europe’s concerns over what Trump said on the campaign trail constitutes whingeing. Who then does he think is the whinger in chief? Chancellor Merkel of Germany? The secretary-general of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg ? You cannot conduct diplomacy by replicating sound-bites from “Have I Got News for You”. Nor can you forge the close partnership with our European neighbours that he claims to favour by staying away when important shared concerns are on the table.

There are plenty of serious concerns about what the President – elect said on the campaign trail on foreign and trade policy. In pretty well every case – over Iran, over possible nuclear weapons for Japan and South Korea, over climate change, over the use of torture, over free trade agreements, over NATO – those remarks run counter to the declared policies of our own and of other European governments.

There is an important discussion to be held as to how best to express these concerns, and megaphone diplomacy is certainly not the best method. But nor is imitating Voltaire’s Dr Pangloss and saying that “all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds” which seems closer to the Foreign Secretary’s preference.

Much is being made of parallels between Donald Trump and Ronald Reagan, and about Margaret Thatcher’s close working relationship with Reagan. But Margaret Thatcher never hesitated to speak out when she disagreed with Reagan’s policies – over the Star Wars programme for missile defence, over US sanctions on European companies constructing a gas pipeline in the Soviet Union, over the failed attempt at Reykjavik to eliminate all nuclear weapons. And she did not worry when by doing so she found herself in the company of the other main European governments, France and Germany, in her efforts to influence US foreign policy.

The Foreign Secretary clearly has a lot to learn. He prides himself on his knowledge of history. Perhaps he might undertake a crash course on a period closer to our days, and a good deal more relevant to them, than that of Ancient Greece and Rome.

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Edited by Bill Emmott

3 Responses to “Johnson needs to learn from Thatcher”

  • Johnson shouldn’t even be Foreign Secretary, or have any position of responsibility. He is a national embarrassment not an asset.

  • Megaphone diplomacy: the only thing Johnson just about mastered is the megaphone (the one button version only). Diplomacy is an unknown quantity to the entire Brexit club, Johnson not excluded.