Wednesday 22 March 2023

Playing the wrong role


In 1938, the then Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, took himself off to Munich and signed an agreement with the then German Chancellor, a certain Mr Hitler, about the future of Czechoslovakia in an attempt to avoid war on the European mainland. Hitler, of course, never had any intention of abiding by any such agreement. As sometimes happens in history, a leader comes along who really doesn’t care a damn about conventions, laws or honesty, but is just prepared to say whatever is necessary at the time to get what he wants. Amongst those excoriating Chamberlain for appeasing Hitler was a certain Mr Churchill. The said Mr Churchill has long been an idol of one of his successors, the one who is hopefully facing his very own Waterloo this afternoon (to mix up the wars and metaphors), and who has long sought to model himself on the uncompromising approach of his hero.

All this goes some way to explaining the statement by Johnson today that he will vote against the Conservative government tonight over the Northern Ireland Protocol agreement which his successor-but-one has negotiated with Brussels. Indeed, in comments reminiscent of Churchill’s accusations of appeasement, he is demanding that the government tear up the Protocol (negotiated by Johnson) as well as the amendments negotiated by Sunak and unilaterally renege on the agreement it made with the EU, leading to a probable all-out trade war with our continental neighbours. All very Churchillian. Except…

As usual however, his command of the detail is a little deficient. He doesn’t seem to realise that the role he’s acting out is that of Hitler, not Churchill. The man who signed an agreement he had no intention of keeping; the man who could never take yes for an answer, and would always go on to demand more until all-out war became more or less inevitable. His Churchillianism is what it’s always been – superficial, and based on a rhetorical style which he fondly imagines he is emulating, but which others can see for the bluster which it is. It will be on show again this afternoon.

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