Press "Enter" to skip to content

G7 summit: Boris Johnson puts in assured performance – but this could be as good as it gets

Boris Johnson was beaming as he signed off his first G7 summit in Biarritz.

Taking questions from journalists in his closing press conference, he was clearly brimming with that “can do spirit” that he spoke of during the Conservative Party leadership race.

Dodging the difficult questions on Brexit – I’ll come to that in a bit – he had every right to feel pleased with his performance on this global stage.

Image: The PM is about to begin a very difficult negotiation with parliament over Brexit

Mr Johnson managed to pull off a delicate political dance in which both the US and the EU seemed like natural partners.

No 10’s decision to dispatch Mr Johnson to Berlin and Paris ahead of the G7 meet enabled the prime minister to avoid a Brexit blow-up in Biarritz and allowed him instead to reassure European colleagues that on all other areas of policy – be it Iran, climate change, China-US trade wars – he stood with them.

The message was clear: the UK might be leaving the European Union but we will steadfastly stand with Europe when it comes to global co-operation and foreign policy.

And while there was plenty of tough talk on Brexit (the prime minister telling me in an interview that no-deal would be entirely down to the “obduracy” of the EU and he won’t stump up the £39bn divorce bill if there’s no deal), in private Mr Johnson struck a more emollient tone: he didn’t even raise the money issue with Mr Tusk.

In those private bilaterals there was a rather different Mr Johnson on show to the one he has cultivated to his domestic audience.

As one European official told me in Biarritz, he was keen to impress upon EU leaders how serious he is about a deal and how much he wants to get one done.

As he left Biarritz, the prime minister said he was “marginally more optimistic” that he could agree a deal with the Europeans.

One source close to Mr Johnson said he felt that the Europeans appreciated that he had presented them with a very clear proposals about what needed to happen in order to get a deal, while also being realistic that his demand for the backstop has to go is perhaps an impossible ask.

But it will be the dance played out between him and President Donald Trump that will really delight Mr Johnson.

In a freewheeling press conference at the end of the summit, I asked President Trump for his views on Mr Johnson and his proposed Brexit deal.

Trump ‘waited six years’ for Johnson to become PM

“I really believe Boris Johnson will be a great prime minister,” Mr Trump said.

“We like each other and we had a great two and a half days, I’ve been waiting for him to be prime minister for about six years, I told him ‘what took you so long?’

“I think he’ll be a great prime minister and especially after spending a lot of intense time with him over last couple of days he’s very smart he’s very strong, and he’s very enthusiastic.”

But the president also acknowledged that Mr Johnson may well end up leaving with no deal.

“They may not make a deal,” he said.

Boris Johnson: Interview in full

“The EU is very tough to make deals with, just ask Theresa May.”

And it’s not only the EU who are going to prove extremely difficult to handle.

Mr Johnson will also face the full force of an anti-no deal parliament next week when Westminster grinds back into action after the summer recess.

This is a prime minister who has enjoyed four weeks in office completely unopposed.

He and his team have been dancing around the pitch with the opposition still in the changing room.

But in a week’s time his opponents are back on the pitch, refreshed and ready for battle, and what has been a somewhat easy game to play over the summer is going to get much, much harder.

Trump: ‘Boris is going to be a very great prime minister’

The new prime minister has spent the past week trying to roll the pitch for a re-opening of talks with the EU, but what is he going to do about a parliamentary roadblock?

The anti-no dealers are organised and mobilised.

They may well decide to give him some space to try a renegotiation with Brussels, but they are also crystal clear that they intend to demand an extension to Article 50 should negotiations fail.

I asked Mr Johnson at his G7 press briefing what he intended to do in the likely event that parliament frustrates his no-deal plan. Will he try to suspend parliament or trigger a general election?

It’s the question he’s been repeatedly refusing to answer – defaulting to a position that he believes “it’s the job of everybody in parliament to get this thing done”.

“I think it’s what the people want. I also think by the way it’s what our friends and partners on the other side of the Channel want,” the PM said.

Tusk: Johnson must not become ‘Mr no-deal’

“They want this thing done, they want it over.

“You talk to our friends as I have done in the last few weeks and they are very enthusiastic about getting on with the future. They regard Brexit now as an encumbrance.”

But for the vast majority of parliamentarians, the vote to leave the EU in 2016 was not a vote for the hardest form of Brexit – a no-deal.

Mr Johnson is trying his best to make this version of Brexit the mainstream, but beyond his No 10 bunker, politicians and much of the public look on aghast.

A good end to his first month as PM, but back home he is about to begin a very difficult – perhaps impossible – negotiation with parliament over his Brexit position. A good summit and a good summer.

This could well be as good as it gets for him.


Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.