Donald Trump Praises Boris Johnson, Who Once Called Him “Unfit to Hold the Office of President of the United States”

Apparently, no one in the president’s inner circle has worked up the courage to tell him that Boris Johnson denounced him during the 2016 campaign.

Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, left, greets U.S. President Donald Trump, right, a working dinner meeting at the NATO headquarters during a NATO summit of heads of state and government in Brussels on Thursday, May 25, 2017. US President Donald Trump inaugurated the new headquarters during a ceremony on Thursday with other heads of state and government. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, Pool)
When he was Britain's foreign minister, Boris Johnson shared a laugh with Donald Trump behind the back of Prime Minister Theresa May. Matt Dunham/AP

“We’re respected all over the world,” Donald Trump told an audience of young Republican operatives in Washington on Tuesday. By way of example, he cited the votes of 92,153 members of the British Conservative Party who chose his ally Boris Johnson to be their party’s new leader — paving the way for the man who led the Brexit campaign to succeed Theresa May as prime minister.

“A really good man is going to be the prime minister of the U.K. now, Boris Johnson,” Trump said. “He’s tough and he’s smart. They’re saying, ‘Britain Trump.’ They call him ‘Britain Trump.’ And people are saying that’s a good thing. They like me over there, that’s what they wanted. That’s what they need.”

Trump’s praise for Johnson suggests that no one in his inner circle has yet worked up the courage to show him the video of the former mayor of London denouncing Trump, during the 2016 campaign, as “clearly out of his mind.” In late 2015, when Trump first called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” Johnson stood in front of a television camera to express his disgust.

“You can’t ban people going to the United States in that way, or indeed to any country,” Johnson, then London’s mayor, said two days after Trump’s December 7, 2015, campaign speech where he suggested closing America’s borders to Muslims.

Referring to Trump’s subsequent claim that his ban was justified because immigrants had made parts of London “no go zones” for non-Muslims, including police officers, Johnson went on to say that Trump was “betraying a quite stupefying ignorance that makes him frankly unfit to hold the office of president of the United States.”

“I would invite him to come and see the whole of London and take him round the city,” Johnson added, “except that I wouldn’t want to expose Londoners to any unnecessary risk of meeting Donald Trump.”

Johnson’s presumed ability to forge a closer relationship with Trump than his predecessor Theresa May is considered important for the pro-Brexit members of his party, who hope that a free-trade deal with the United States could help the U.K. offset some of the economic self-harm caused by withdrawing from the European Union.

During his campaign for the Conservative Party leadership — a contest in which less than 0.3 percent of the British public had a vote — Johnson was careful to avoid antagonizing Trump. Notably, he refused to defend Britain’s ambassador in Washington, Kim Darroch, after the envoy’s private analysis of dysfunction in Trump’s White House was leaked to a pro-Brexit journalist. Johnson’s failure to stand up for the ambassador, who was being bullied by Trump on Twitter, triggered Darroch’s decision to resign.

During a recent BBC discussion of Trump’s fury at the ambassador, one of Johnson’s supporters, Dominic Raab, was asked why those leaked cables were so much worse than calling the American president stupefyingly ignorant.

More recently, Johnson was forced to reject Trump’s racist suggestion that four American members of Congress — women of color, who have criticized the president’s immigration policies — should be deported. While he refused to answer directly when asked in a debate if Trump’s tweets were racist, Johnson did reject their premise. “If you are the leader of a great multiracial, multicultural society, you simply cannot use that kind of language about sending people back to where they came from,” Johnson said. “That went out decades and decades ago, and thank heavens for that.”

Once Johnson takes office, Trump might be disappointed to find that the new British leader, who was born in New York and spent part of his childhood in Brussels, is far more cosmopolitan than most of the English nationalists who voted for Brexit. Johnson, who tried to convince Trump to not abandon the Iran nuclear deal, even has family ties to the Muslim world. His paternal grandfather, born Osman Wilfred Kemal, was the son of an English-Swiss woman, Winifred Brun, and a Turkish journalist and politician, Ali Kemal. (After Winifred died in childbirth, her son, Boris Johnson’s grandfather, was raised by his English grandmother, who changed his last name to Johnson during the World War I.)

When Johnson was asked during a debate with other candidates for the Conservative Party leadership about his naked appeals to the Islamophobia of some Brexit supporters, and the fact that he joked about the appearance of veiled women, he defended himself by referring to “my Muslim great-grandfather.”

Regular readers will not be surprised to learn that Trump’s claims about his broad popularity in the U.K. were also untrue, in two ways. First, no one in the U.K. — at least no one whose first language is English — refers to Johnson as “Britain Trump.” And, as the Guardian politics blogger Andrew Sparrow explained, while Johnson is often compared to Trump, “that is because they both have blond hair and say lots of things that are untrue.” Outside of far-right circles, Sparrow added, “the comparison is not generally viewed as a compliment.”

Trump’s frequent claim that he is loved by Britons is also demonstrably false. Polling on the eve of the president’s visit to London last month — which prompted tens of thousands of protesters to march against him for the second time in a year — showed that just 21 percent of the British public approves of him, while 67 percent dislike him. That poll result, which sharply contrasts with the high regard in which his predecessor Barack Obama is held, was projected onto the Tower of London during Trump’s visit by a group of anti-Brexit activists.

The American president is, however, relatively popular with one important sliver of the British electorate: the 160,000 fee-paying Conservative Party activists entitled to vote for the governing party’s new leader, who will inherit the post of prime minister on Wednesday.

Almost half of the Conservative members are over 65, 71 percent are male, and 97 percent are white. According to polling published last month, 40 percent of Conservatives said that immigration by Muslims to the U.K. from its former colonies should be restricted, and 45 percent believe the false statement that “there are areas in Britain in which non-Muslims are not able to enter.”

Another recent poll of Conservative members showed that 56 percent of them said Islam is a threat to the British way of life, and 54 percent said that Trump would make a good prime minister of the U.K.

Like Trump, Johnson likes to see himself as a latter-day Winston Churchill. Sir Nicholas Soames, a grandson of Churchill and a Conservative member of Parliament, doesn’t see anything of his grandfather in either man. He has called Trump a “daft twerp” and described his remarks on the Iran nuclear deal as “totally moronic.” On Tuesday, Soames told the BBC that he voted against Johnson because he is “a chancer,” or someone who tries to bluff his way through life. He also revealed that he texted Johnson last week and paraphrased Churchill to say, “I pray for all our sakes you don’t bugger it up.”

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