The appointment of Boris Johnson as Britain’s new prime minister offers the serious prospect of a radical improvement in the bilateral ties between Washington and London. Pictured: Johnson enters Number 10 Downing Street on July 24, 2019, his first day in office as prime minister. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
The appointment of Boris Johnson as Britain’s new prime minister offers the serious prospect of a radical improvement in the bilateral ties between Washington and London following the froideur [chill] that came to define the transatlantic relationship under the outgoing prime minister, Theresa May.
While, in public, Mrs May offered loyal pledges of support to Donald Trump, and professed to enjoy a warm personal relationship with the American president, the reality was that the personal chemistry between the two leaders was often awkward, with Mrs May often failing to grasp Mr Trump’s radical approach to global affairs.
The differences between the two are best summed up by Mrs May’s failure to heed Mr Trump’s advice on handling the challenging Brexit negotiations with the European Union. Mr Trump suggested London needed to play hardball with Brussels, even suggesting at one point that the UK should sue the EU as part of its negotiating strategy to demonstrate that it meant business.
This advice was completely contrary to Mrs May’s mindset, as prevarication, obfuscation and a desperate desire to avoid confrontation at all costs were the characteristics that defined her premiership. Consequently, the negotiations resulted in the EU dictating the terms of the settlement. The subsequent withdrawal agreement was deemed so unacceptable that it failed to win the approval of the House of Commons, thereby ending Mrs May’s premiership.
Moreover, throughout this sorry saga, relations between London and Washington continued to deteriorate to the point where, in one of Mrs May’s last acts as prime minister, Britain declined an offer of American military support to protect British shipping in the Gulf, resulting in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard hijacking a British-registered oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz and holding it captive in the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas.
Mrs May’s reasoning for not accepting the American offer was that to do so might inflict further damage to the Iran nuclear deal which Britain, together with the other European signatories of the deal, Germany and France, still believe it can rescue.
Indeed, the reality of relations between Downing Street and the White House was best summed up in the leaked diplomatic correspondence of Sir Kim Darroch, the UK Ambassador to Washington, who described the Trump White House as being “dysfunctional”, and denounced the president’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal last year as being an act of “diplomatic vandalism” carried out to spite former President Barack Obama.
Now, following Mr Johnson’ triumphant entry into Downing Street this week, the expectation on both sides of the Atlantic is that there will be a radical upgrade in relations between London and Washington, not least because of the strong personal chemistry that exists between Mr Johnson and the president. Mr Trump has already publicly professed his admiration for the new British premier, remarking that, “They call him Britain Trump”.
Furthermore, Mr Johnson has signalled his determination radically to change Britain’s approach to global affairs by undertaking a wholesale revision of personnel in the key political positions.
In what commentators in London are calling the “summer’s day massacre”, a total of 17 of Mrs May’s senior cabinet ministers have either been sacked or offered their resignations. These include Jeremy Hunt, whose last act as Foreign Secretary was to reject Washington’s offer to protect shipping in the Gulf and instead came up with the preposterous notion of establishing a “European Maritime Mission” to do the job instead. As France and Britain are the only European countries with navies capable of undertaking such a task, the notion was dead in the water before it even started.
Mr Johnson’s determination to help Britain reclaim its status as a leading world power after the drift of the May years is reflected in the calibre of his appointments, especially regarding Britain’s engagement with the outside world.
These include Dominic Raab, the new Foreign Secretary who served briefly as Brexit Secretary under Mrs May before resigning over the terms of her withdrawal agreement. Considered one of the more hawkish members of the new administration, Mr Raab is the son of a Czech-born Jewish refugee who fled the Nazis in 1938. Previously he has worked as a lawyer at the Foreign Office, where he helped to prosecute war criminals and advised on Arab-Israeli negotiations.
Ben Wallace, the new defence secretary, is another appointment that bodes well for fulfilling Mr Johnson’s more assertive outlook. A former officer in the British Army, in his previous job as Security Minister he took a hard line on Islamist terror groups such as Hezbollah.
Thus, with politicians of this calibre occupying key positions in the new British government, Mr Johnson now has a golden opportunity to revive Britain’s standing on the world stage, one where the close relationship between Washington and London will be one of the pillars of Britain’s dynamic new approach.
Con Coughlin is the Telegraph‘s Defence Editor and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute. He is the author of “Khomeini’s Ghost”.