Boris Johnson: entertaining raconteur or dangerous liar?

Iceberg or sunlit uplands? Keystone

Swiss newspapers are trying to unwrap the riddle of Boris Johnson and what his election on Tuesday as leader of the Conservative Party will mean for Britain and its showdown with the European Union. 

This content was published on July 23, 2019 - 15:50

“Who exactly is the man who will become British Prime Minister tomorrow after the resignation of Theresa May?” wondered Le TempsExternal link in Geneva after the announcement. “The entertaining raconteur, popular pro-immigration mayor of London bursting with charisma and energy? Or the dangerous liar, champion of Brexit, catastrophic foreign minister who doesn’t hesitate to flirt with xenophobia and is adored by Donald Trump?” 

No one knows for sure, it continued, “because Johnson himself has always avoided defining himself too precisely. The only thing that counts is winning. The ultra-competitive Boris Johnson is one of the most gifted electoral campaigners of his generation”. 

The paper pointed out that winning the mayoralty in leftwing London was a “stroke of genius” and that his backing of Brexit – “a cause he joined very late” – had undoubtedly been decisive. 

‘Political weather vane’ 

“He couldn’t care less about dropping political clangers,” said tabloid BlickExternal link. “Johnson has been able to cultivate his reputation as a political weather vane with impunity. Even his followers admit that Boris Johnson has only one interest: the personal benefit of Boris Johnson.” 

New York-born Johnson, 55, previously said he wanted to create a “Britzerland” alliance between Britain and Switzerland outside the EU. 

“Of all people it’s this man, described by former colleagues as both razor-sharp and intellectually idle, who is now expected to achieve the impossible,” Blick concluded. “By October 31 he wants to complete the British divorce from the European Union. With or without a withdrawal deal.” 

For its part, the European Union congratulated Johnson but was firm that it would not heed his election promises of renegotiating Brexit. 

‘Clash with reality’ 

“The UK has a new head of government, but this is not what a new beginning full of hope looks like,” reckoned the Neue Zürcher ZeitungExternal link (NZZ). 

“Boris Johnson will become prime minister of a deeply divided country that’s in its most difficult situation for decades. The man who until now has stood out above all for his nonchalant approach to facts, his impulsive personality and his daring promises now has the task of putting these promises into practice. The big question is how this clash with reality will play out.” 

Under the headline “The UK lets itself in for a risky adventure”, the NZZ said Johnson had positioned himself as a standard bearer for a hard Brexit, which is precisely why some 90,000 party members chose him as their new leader. 

“But a look at his political biography shows that he behaves not as a stubborn ideologue but as an opportunist to whom sudden changes of position are by no means alien and whose most striking feature is his unpredictability. His commitment to Brexit in 2016 was based on a sober power calculation – which has now worked out,” it wrote. 

“In the event that Boris Johnson doesn’t want to become a prisoner of his own rhetoric, the final act in the Brexit drama could still hold a few surprises.”

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