Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a speech on domestic priorities in Manchester, England. Picture: Rui Vieira/AP
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a speech on domestic priorities in Manchester, England. Picture: Rui Vieira/AP

Boris Johnson talks big, but can he deliver Brexit?

By David Monyae Time of article published Jul 31, 2019

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Number 10 Downing Street’s new occupant, Boris Johnson, has undoubtedly shocked the world as the Conservative Party’s chosen leader. Britain, therefore, joins the US, Philippines, Ukraine and Brazil with famous leaders whose cantankerous personalities defy logic. South Africa has fresh memories of such leadership.

One does not have to go any further than Parktown in Joburg, where the drama of the former president Jacob Zuma’s years in power continues to be displayed at the Zondo Commission.

Obviously, Johnson is not Donald Trump, Rodrigo Duterte, Volodymyr Zelensky, Jair Bolsonaro nor our own Zuma. BoJo, as Johson is famously known, has an equally colourful character and career as a journalist, mayor and foreign secretary.

Johnson’s leadership has, however, brought a new era in global politics in which leadership is no longer based on good character and proven record. The new British PM’s record is littered with lies and awkward views. His accession proves that anyone can be a leader these days as long as you are able to tap into people’s worst fears about open borders, immigration and cultural dilution.

Will Johnson succeed in uniting a divided Britain?

As the chief advocate of Brexit, can he negotiate a better deal with the EU than his predecessor, Theresa May? What can Africa expect from number 10 Downing Street with Johnson as resident?

He inherits a deeply fragmented and divided Great Britain in search of its place in Europe and the world. The main challenge confronting all British PMs since Winston Churchill has been a declining economy compared with other countries in Europe and the world.

Since 1945, Britain has been recovering from a shrinking empire with its colonies gaining independence.

Britain has witnessed a gradual decline in global leadership as American hegemony begun asserting itself over the world. Unfortunately, Johnson belongs to those revisionist Britons longing for the lost imperialist past. The entire Brexit that Johnson championed is primarily predicated on the wishful thinking and desire to bring back Britain’s glorious past.

Johnson will certainly prioritise the relic of Commonwealth. This once more defies logic as some of the former British colonies such as India, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa occupy relatively high positions in global politics.

For instance, India’s economy is larger than Britain’s.

It won’t be long before Johnson tests the power of the EU on the matter of Brexit. All the enthusiasm he showed on his victory day last week will end in Brussels when he faces the EU leadership over Brexit.

He is unlikely to get a better deal than May. It will soon be apparent that he is neither sufficiently competent nor capable of bringing fresh ideas and plans to steer Britain out of domestic challenges and the EU. Instead, Britain under Johnson will lose the influence it currently commands within multilateral institutions.

Attempts to resuscitate the Commonwealth will fail dismally as many countries are looking to China and other bodies, such as the BRICS, for leadership on matters of global governance.

What about Africa? Former British PM Tony Blair’s disastrous Zimbabwe policy and the perception of Africa as a “scar on world’s conscience” will not be rescued by Johnson. He thinks that “the Commonwealth is to be thanked for providing rows and rows of flag-waving piccaninnies”. He will also figure out that the so-called piccaninnies are moving forward with the AfCFTA to negotiate new trade deals with Britain as equals.

The world is also eagerly waiting to see if Britain will continue its pretence of being a big power and colonial master on unfolding events in Hong Kong.

* Monyae is the director of the Centre for Africa-China Studies at the University of Johannesburg.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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