Benefiting from Brexit Boris Johnson's Folly

Boris Johnson is Britain's most talented populist. He has seduced his country to leave the European Union -- and it could make him prime minister. But those supporting him could end up paying most dearly.

Leave campaigner Boris Johnson
DPA

Leave campaigner Boris Johnson


On the day of his greatest triumph, Boris Johnson left his house with his hands shoved deep into his pockets, his shoulders slumped. His expression made him look like a child being called into the school principal's office for causing trouble. His neighbors booed him as he passed by, with some calling "shame on you, Boris."

It was a striking scene, for Johnson had just scored his greatest political victory -- one that could even make him the next prime minister of Britain.

But the man who was berated on the streets of London on Friday morning envisioned things ending up this way from the very beginning. He had gambled and he had won.

It hasn't even been a year since we interviewed Johnson back when he was the mayor of London. We sat together in City Hall, just across from the financial district, and he didn't have much to say about Brexit. Johnson shrugged his shoulders, said that there were reasons for it and many against it, but that he didn't believe Britain's departure from the European Union would be the end of the world. He seemed to not particularly care.

Johnson became far more animated when the discussion turned to one of his favorite topics: The great statesman Winston Churchill, that larger-than-life British icon who refused to back down to the Nazis, sporting a bowler hat, chomping on a cigar and carrying a machine gun, announcing he'd rather die than shake Hitler's hand.

Churchill had principles, but what Johnson truly admired about him was that Churchill was a gambler. One prepared to go so far as abandoning his own political party simply to gain more power.

At the time, one year ago, Johnson was politically adrift. He had no great challenge awaiting him after leaving City Hall behind. British Prime Minister David Cameron, Johnson's eternal rival going back to their days together in Oxford's snobby student drinking outfit the Bullingdon Club, remained untouchable for him.

There would be no glory for him inside parliament, so Johnson needed an outside movement he could hitch his fortunes to. That would become the Leave campaign. Before he and Michael Gove, Cameron's friend and British secretary of justice, joined the campaign to abandon the European Union, it was a repository for provincial freaks, gin-drinking nostalgists and malcontents such as Nigel Farage, someone who considers his nicotine addiction an act of nonconformity and resistance.

Brexit supporters were set to remain politically irrelevant, confined to Farage's UKIP party of pub revolutionaries and armchair rebels, content to down three or four pints of ale and never take more than 10 percent of the vote.

But Johnson changed all of that. He is a gifted populist and can read and articulate the feelings and desires of his fellow Britons like no other British politician of his generation. This despite the fact that he is an elitist through and through, a product of the country's best schools. He uses charm and humor to win over London's upper classes, but is equally at ease in the most provincial parts of England. Swinging his ample belly to and fro, he's a man of the common folk in those places where there's little hope left, such as Hull or Carlisle.

At home, Johnson likes to quote Ovid, but when he's visiting town squares in northern England, or whatever the economic downturn has left of them, he gladly chows down on bangers and mash with the locals.

The Brexit campaign became Johnson's latest populist plaything. He took over the movement like an investor snapping up a company -- but this was no hostile takeover. The freaks desperately needed Johnson.

Now he's achieved his goal. He gathered up all of the provincial rage outside of the capital and used it to place a huge bet. And perhaps it was too large. During his first statement after a long night of dismay for most continental Europeans, it sounded as if he wanted to prepare his country for hard times ahead.

"No time for haste," Johnson said. It sounded like he hoped protracted negotiations with Europe could stave off the worst for Britain.

Johnson will end up costing the British a lot of money. Back in his Bullingdon Club days in Oxford, Johnson and his cohorts would sometimes smash up the restaurants they visited, tossing food on the walls and trashing the furniture. Only to return the next day to pay in pounds for their vandalism.

This time it's different. The entire nation will end up paying for Johnson's folly. And the highest price is sure to be paid by those most downtrodden -- those who voted as Johnson wished.

Translated from the German by Marc Young

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glasspix 06/26/2016
1. Sore loosers at Speigel...
Since you are not allowed to criticise your own Chancellor, you are taking cheap shots against Johnson, who just was not a decisive player in this saga. Every time Juncker opened his mouth, the Leave camp has gained another 1%. Schulz's condescending personal remarks about the British PM and his complete dismissal of the UK's efforts to reform that big whit elephant are well remembered by the British electorate. And guess whose pawns these two wrecking balls are? That is right, the stench leads back to Berlin.
Underground906 06/26/2016
2. ''Freaks''
''The freaks desperately needed Johnson.'' The gloves are certainly off. Having firmly been thrown down in a petulant, vile fit of naked contempt from the Left, revealing what they truly feel and think about anyone who opposes them, and isn't part of the privileged little click. There is no longer even any attempt on behalf at basically journalistic integrity and professional civility. You people have revealed your grotesque prejudices, bigotry, dismissal of the working class, inability to even listen and understand any argument but your own. Displayed your totalitarian natures and disregard of democracy. Have destroyed any notion of journalistic standards of neutrality. It's all be done in a way that is actively inciting confrontation and division. You're hate speech, referring to the leave campaign as freaks, and all the rest going on in the media, shows what people have always known about the left's claim to represent tolerance, liberty and diversity, that it's purely empty, virtue-signalling buzz-words. Personally, I hope you're kind persist, because the tables are turning, and a confrontation that reveals your true nature to the public, without the usual PR spin you put in, is very welcome.
nsmith 06/27/2016
3.
There is something disturbingly similar between Boris Johnson and Donald Trump. One can only hope that this doesn't spell doom for th U.S. as well...
Wetoldyouso 06/27/2016
4. Germany Sells the EU to Turkey and Spiegel Moralises
The entire nation has been paying for years. It had nothing to lose by finally sending a message that, had it not been sent, would have left it languishing anyway for foreseeable future. The austerity policies so beloved of Frau Merkel, Cameron, Osborn, Juncker, the IMF, Lagarde, etc., would have continued in perpetuity, because the only language politicians understand is losing. In the meantime, all of Europe is already paying for Germany's folly, via Frau Merkel. Or does the author of this article this 6bn euros is cheap? That Turkey is a wonderful county? That proposals for forced mandatory quotas were going to win Berlin and Brussels friends? The EU has given BREXIT all its opportunities. If it disintegrates, it should look no further than remote, out of touch Brussels and Kaiserin Merkel, not to Britain. I look forward to seeing what happens when the EU rolls out is expanded budget, proposals for new mandated migrant quotas with accompanying fines of 250,000euros for each migrant a country refuses to take, more grabs at judicial sovereignty through full accession to the ECHR . . . Johnson's prescience will likely begin to look far more appealing to the UK when that agenda is rolled out, showing that the EU has learnt absolutely nothing from its own follies. Of course, if the EU wants to go on committing political suicide, by all means do so.
Harold Rogers 06/27/2016
5. Childish Dummy Spit
Mr Huetlin doesn't deserve space in any journal as he personally attacks Mr Johnson. It takes about a minute to measure the achievements Mr Huetlin against Mr Johnson. Then again, that's normal, the people in the grandstand never make it to the field!
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