Leader of the Opposition Simon Bridges was right to do so when he called Boris Johnson, the new Prime Minister of the U.K., a buffoon. Despite Mr Bridges later backtracking and calling it an endearment it was – coming from a conservative New Zealand politician – a surprisingly appropriate estimate.
So, what does Mr Johnson, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and leader of an increasingly rabid Conservative Party, mean for New Zealand?
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern welcomed the appointment and noted that Minister of Foreign Affairs, Winston Peters has a warm relationship with him. Mr Peters, who was photographed last year with Mr Johnson trying out the phones at the War Rooms of war time Prime Minister Winston Churchill supports Mr Johnson’s pledge to exit the European Union with or without a deal on 31 October 2019.
But is Boris Johnson really the Prime Minister of the U.K. that New Zealand wants or needs to do business with? Granted that he might be forgiven for probably not having read the Defence Capability Plan that Minister of Defence Ron Mark released a couple of months ago, Mr Johnson’s knowledge of New Zealand government policy did not get off to a good start, suggesting that we might be about to purchase several naval frigates from the United Kingdom. Whilst eventual replacements for the frigates have been timetabled into the D.C.P., the timing is not until around 2028-2030, and no ideas about who might be given the contract have been mentioned as yet.
Mr Johnson’s promise of a Free Trade Agreement between the United Kingdom and New Zealand is another potential stumbling block. The trade deal can only happen if the United Kingdom exits the European Union. Whilst this is likely to happen, it is likely to be subject to significant delay as the U.K. Parliament refuses to allow a no-deal Brexit to happen. As chief proponent of no-deal Brexit Mr Johnson is therefore going to find himself and the idea of no-deal Brexit severely challenged in the next few months.
Resistance to the policy platform of Mr Johnson is likely to come from other places as well. An enigma on U.K government policy, he has shown himself to be more liberal on issues around taxation and gay marriage despite being conservative, but at the same time consistently voting against measures to contain and reduce the United Kingdom’s contribution to the worlds man made carbon equation. Mr Johnson has also supported selling arms to Saudi Arabia despite substantial evidence that they are being used to commit war crimes in Yemen.
As a politician who has supported the highly divisive anti-immigrant and anti-European Union, Nigel Farage and his United Kingdom Independence Party, Mr Johnson is not likely to win himself much support from the left – if any at all. As a politician seen to be cut from the same crude cloth of United States President Donald Trump, with a disregard for the establishment and the rule of law both domestically and internationally, Britain’s reputation as a leading light of the west could be in jeopardy if he swings too far to the right.
For a little country in the south Pacific that tries to comply with international law and maintain an emphasis on everyone having a fair go, Mr Johnson’s appointment might not be the most helpful thing the U.K. has done for New Zealand.