Boris Johnson and other Tory cabinet ministers who spent years “queueing up to pour praise” on Donald Trump, despite his objectionable views have achieved nothing other than to diminish the UK’s reputation in the world, the shadow foreign secretary, Lisa Nandy, has said.
Calling for a new UK foreign policy with a “moral centre”, Nandy attacks key figures in the Conservative leadership for the way they lauded Trump as a means of advancing their own careers, forgetting that his attitudes amounted to a rejection of British values of tolerance, democracy and the promotion of minority rights.
Also today, writing in the Observer, the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, renews his four-year war of words with Trump, saying the outgoing president – who encouraged his supporters to stage protests over the US election result in Washington DC last week – had from the start “followed the playbook of the fascist dictators and strongmen that came to power in the 1930s and 40s”. Khan says the way Tory leaders lauded Trump down the years amounted to a form of “appeasement” that will not be forgotten.
Speaking to the Observer, Nandy said the behaviour of members of the current government, including Johnson and Michael Gove, since early 2017 had been “nauseating”.
“Whether it’s over trade, climate change or justice for 19-year-old Harry Dunn, those cabinet ministers have come away with absolutely nothing to show for these public displays of sycophancy except for a diminished reputation for Britain in the world,” the shadow foreign secretary said. “The special relationship with the US works when it is based on honesty, mutual trust and respect. Ministers were so eager to swallow the Trump playbook of how politics should be done that they abandoned British values, interests and their own self-respect.
“Britain’s foreign policy must have a moral centre and we should have the confidence to stand firm against those who undermine our values and our interests. Our country is better than this and we deserve a government that shows it.”
During a press conference last week, after Trump supporters had broken into the Capitol building and clashed with police in what the incoming president, Joe Biden, called an “insurrection”, Johnson did join the global condemnation of Trump.
“In so far as he encouraged people to storm the Capitol and in so far as the president consistently has cast doubt on the outcome of a free and fair election, I believe that that was completely wrong,” the prime minister said. “I think what President Trump has been saying about that has been completely wrong and I unreservedly condemn encouraging people to behave in the disgraceful way that they did in the Capitol.”
But Nandy and Khan say memories of how he befriended Trump at every turn on his rise to No 10 – promoting the president’s pro-Brexit enthusiasms while never openly criticising him even over his treatment of minorities and women – will live on.
Last year leaks of diplomatic exchanges showed Johnson had told US officials he believed the president was “making America great again”.
In early 2017 the Cabinet Office minister, Michael Gove, paid homage to Trump in a Times interview in which he seemed bedazzled by his appearance, talking of his “clothes in primary colours so bold they make everyone else in the room seem dowdy”. Gove was also photographed grinning alongside him.
Khan writes: “Whatever they say now, the most senior Conservative ministers rushed to fawn over Trump. Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Priti Patel, Dominic Raab and others deliberately tied their political project to his. Not just by facilitating a clearly inappropriate state visit to the UK but by forging close links between their party and Trump’s movement.
“Their appeasement will not be forgotten despite their eleventh-hour belated attempts to put distance between themselves and Trump.”
Khan added: “The events in the US must now act as a wake-up call for democracies around the world. There is no guarantee that other democracies will prove to be as robust as the US has, especially as some countries will likely suffer horrendous economic consequences from the pandemic – conditions that history tells us are ripe for the rise of fascism.”