Boris Johnson’s willingness to fight his old enemies risks turning the UK into a pariah.

On Monday, Johnson’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss released the long-awaited information. Northern Ireland Protocol Billlegislation that, if passed, would allow the British government to unilaterally cancel parts of the Brexit deal it negotiated with the EU in 2019.

Two days later, the EU responded by bringing legal action against the United Kingdom for its failure to date to comply with parts of the protocol, while Maros Sefcovic, Vice President of the European Commission, stated that “there is no legal or political justification for for a unilateral change in an international treaty… let’s call a spade a spade: it’s illegal.”

UK government officials responded angrily, insisting that the bill, if passed, would be perfectly legal. Swella Braverman, the attorney general who gave the green light to the new bill, went on television to defend the proposed legislation. At the same time, she accused the BBC portraying the EU as “the good guys”, and told ITV’s political editor that his claim that the bill would violate that law “Remanic fiction”.
On Tuesday, the Johnson government found itself cursing the name of another European institution, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), after it was forced to cancel a flight that was supposed to take asylum seekers to Rwanda. In April, the UK announced an agreement under which asylum seekers in the country could be resettled and given asylum in Rwanda. The UN human rights agency had previously warned the UK that the policy may be illegal as it may expose these refugees to the risk of human rights violations in Rwanda.

The scheme has been widely criticized by human rights organizations, which have been successful in challenging numerous lawsuits against the expulsion of individuals, but have failed in their attempts to obtain an injunction against the suspension of the flight. However, when the ECtHR intervened on Tuesday evening, saying that the last asylum seekers who were supposed to be on board had not exhausted their legal options in the UK, the plane was stopped.

Again, government ministers responded by insisting that the plan was legal. Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab has since proposed that the UK introduce its own Bill of Rights that could effectively allow it ignore the ECtHR.

Johnson’s willingness to engage in public spats with major international organizations makes sense when you look at recent history. Both Johnson and his predecessor, Theresa May, clashed with the judiciary and the EU during the darkest days of Brexit. This, according to a theory prevalent among conservatives, gave both leaders support among their core supporters to attack elite bodies that were blocking the will of the people.

“Historically, Boris has succeeded in hitting big institutions like the EU and the courts,” a former government minister told CNN. “These were not artificial squabbles and both Rwanda and Northern Ireland are good public policy. But the way we protected them tells me that Boris sees a ray of hope,” they added.

In a sense, this logic makes sense. Johnson has been hit by scandal after scandal, and his personal approval ratings are dropping, as are his Conservative Party’s nationwide polls.

He had to fight his own party’s vote to remove him as leader, and on Thursday night his own ethics adviser, Christopher Geidt, resigned, saying the Johnson government had placed him in an “incredible and odious position.”

So fighting high-profile elites in Brussels and Strasbourg over real conservative issues like Brexit and immigration could be exactly what Johnson needs to get things back on track.

However, every time a government becomes so obsessed with domestic politics, it risks forgetting that allies and enemies around the world are paying attention.

CNN spoke to several Western diplomatic sources who said the Johnson government cast a shadow over their perception of the UK. One senior Western official who worked closely with the UK during the Ukraine crisis said that while the Allies were still coordinating with the UK, a sense of unease about not knowing which version of Johnson they would get had normalized.

“He is not Donald Trump, but he is so unpredictable that it is easy for allies to think of him as Donald Trump,” the Western diplomat said.

A European diplomat told CNN that “it’s hard to overstate how much damage has been done. Trust has been severely eroded.” They pointed to the problem with Northern Ireland, stating that “From our side, we know there are solutions for the protocol. But these decisions depend on trust. Why should we trust him not to break any new agreement in the future?”

Western officials say with some sadness that immediately after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, there were moments when they thought Johnson could start behaving like a “stable and predictable” leader, as a Western diplomat put it.

The European official agreed, stating that “there were moments when we looked at the UK with some admiration and thought there might be some way forward. Ukraine was something more than our quarrels.”

However, the official went on to say that this sense of optimism quickly faded after Johnson compared the Ukrainian freedom struggle to to Brexit.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the National Thanksgiving Service at St Paul's Cathedral as part of Queen Elizabeth II's Platinum Jubilee celebrations in London, Friday 3 June.  2022.

Conservatives in Westminster have mixed opinions about how bad it all is. Some fear that the ongoing scandals and Johnson’s rhetoric are turning the UK into a pariah. Worse, they fear that a country like the UK – a longtime member of the rules-based international order – playing with international law so quickly and freely will set a terrible precedent at a time when democracy is under threat in many parts of the world. World.

On the other hand, some MPs feel that Johnson’s critics are worried that normal people don’t care. They claim, not unreasonably, that the G7 member, the NATO member with a permanent seat on the UN Security Council — and one that has paved the way in Ukraine in many ways — is not about to be cut off from its allies.

Ultimately, Johnson’s international spats are likely to spill over into the domestic political arena. Some will like that he takes a tough stance. Others will become increasingly embarrassed that this man is their prime minister.

“If you’re in Boris’ shoes, you can double down on some of these things. What does he have to lose? a senior Conservative MP told CNN. “Either things are so terribly bad that he is doomed to do whatever he does, or he has two years to turn things around before the election. So why not go there and have a fight in your own field?”

This summary makes a lot of sense when you’re sitting in Westminster talking to people who spend too much time in Westminster. However, Johnson’s decisions seriously affect the lives of people who do not spend time in Westminster and for whom this is really not a game. Especially as the UK is experiencing its worst cost-of-living crisis in decades.

Johnson won’t know if his red meat game has paid off until the next general election — unless he’s removed from office before then. No doubt there will be people who will see him as the same Brexit street fighter who defends Britain from hooligans bent on suppressing it.

But there will be a lot of people who will think that instead of starting quarrels with the EU and the ECtHR, Johnson should think about how to improve their lives.

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