Public docility gives Boris Johnson a free pass

The manner with which British government is treating Brexit is cavalier

Forgive me for using a broad brush but I cannot help but conclude that Britons may moan about government policies but are ultimately accepting. We are stereotypically known for our stiff upper lips and ability to weather all storms with our calm demeanours, unlike those emotional Latin types poised to revolt en masse over the price of spaghetti.

We Brits on the other hand are stoic. We don’t go in for shredding flags or burning effigies, we just shrug our shoulders and soldier on regardless in the belief everything will eventually come up roses.

I had a discussion on these lines with one of my oldest friends, a retired civil engineer, who lives in Wales and I was surprised to find he was not only unperturbed over the government’s woeful handling of the Pandemic but also the prospect of a possible looming economic Armageddon portended by numerous financial experts.

“Whatever happens, we’ll manage,” he said.

“Why aren’t you angry,” was my riposte? “Unemployment is growing. Big companies are laying-off tens of thousands of staff. Small businesses are closing down. Queues outside food banks are lengthening and there will be mass homelessness once the ban on evictions lapses at the end of the year — and forget the idea of lucrative trade deals …”

“Yes, I know, but what can I do,” he answered before asking me to please change the subject. I can only wonder how many of my compatriots are similarly ostrichlike.

I haven’t lived in my homeland since 1983 but even though I will not be personally impacted by the prime minister’s catalogue of errors setting the country on a downward spiral for possibly many years to come, I am inwardly seething. A succession of Tory cabinets, beginning with that of former PM David Cameron, have shamefully been chipping away at the UK’s reputation and influence abroad to the extent the nation is condemned to hanging on to Uncle Trump’s coattails as never before.

The problem is that President Trump who promised to fast-track a UK-US trade deal could be on his way out. If so, his successor who is no fan of populists like Johnson is said to be more interested in sealing a deal with the EU than with Britain, reflecting his old boss’s stance. President Obama warned Britain that if it quit the EU it should expect to be at the back of the queue for trade talks.

Johnson’s cavalier fashion

I am also incensed at the cavalier fashion with which the Johnson government is treating the UK’s divorce absolute coming into effect at the end of December with the icing on this well past its sell-by cake being the prime minister’s determination to break international law by unilaterally rewriting clauses in a treaty that he signed himself.

The idea is utterly outrageous for a nation that has always been highly regarded worldwide for its respect for justice and the rule of law. Moreover, it is a thumb in the eye for EU member states and prospects for good relations with Britain’s neighbours across the Channel not to mention a trade deal that looks more elusive as each week passes.

Both Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have warned Johnson that if he insists on pursuing this illegal amendment, there will be no trade deal in the offing because the change will undermine the Good Friday Agreement.

Worse, this egregious behaviour does not bode well for all future trade deals. It sets a damning precedent. Why should any prospective trade partner sign-up to a treaty if Downing Street can simply tear it up at will? Why should Japan, Australia and New Zealand currently interested in pursuing trade agreements be persuaded to sign on the dotted line?

Growing number of Conservative backbenchers

Why should China, for instance, be criticised for not adhering to the letter of the Sino-British Hong-Kong treaty signed in 1984? Boris has emerged as a divisive figure but he has succeeded in uniting four previous UK prime ministers against him not to mention a growing number of Conservative backbenchers.

The latest YouGov Poll shows that the government’s popularity rating is at a low of 33 percent largely over its mismanagement of the pandemic. Hesitancy to act in those all-important early days, confusing regulations, multiple U-turns, shortages of vital equipment such as test kits, last minute lockdowns of certain areas of the country and no-notice 14-day quarantines for anyone arriving from abroad have screamed chaos.

Johnson says the UK is now experiencing a second-wave and is threatening to fine rule-breakers up to 10,000 pounds while warning that yet another countrywide lockdown may be imminent, yet another nail to be hammered into the economy’s coffin.

This once ebullient, super-confident charmer known for his sharp wit looked tired and defeated last week under attack in the Commons. I almost felt sorry for him but my sympathies instead lie with the millions of Britons struggling to keep their heads above water while those supposed to be steering the ship into calm seas are willfully manufacturing storms.

Never mind! Whatever happens there will be no Belarusian-type street protests or Hong-Kong-style sit-ins because when all is said and done, as long as we can enjoy a cuppa and a slice of cake in the garden, all is well in the best of all possible worlds.

Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

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