190726 boris johnson
Image Credit: Gulf News

Most Britons love to moan and groan about their country’s unstable weather, unreliable trains, high taxes and the underfunded NHS not to mention ‘the idiots’ in government, but when the chips are down they invariably morph into fierce patriots.

National pride and a yearning for the kind of independence Britain enjoyed in the good old days before the EU was showered with British largesse to the tune of £600 million weekly and laid down the rules on everything from food standards to climate, energy and vacuum cleaners.

In short the majority of those who voted to leave the EU were motivated by their antipathy towards the free movement of labour that opened the door to millions of Europeans primarily from countries with struggling economies and, most importantly, a desire to rescue what they believed was the watering down of their nation’s identity.

Not so long ago Boris was gung-ho on Huawei’s capabilities and anxious to sign deals but he has been forced to cave to instructions from the White House

- Linda S. Heard

Independence from the diktats of Brussels is the goal and, indeed, unless Boris Johnson can secure a deal in the next five months that would normally take seven years, Britain will wilfully fall off the famous cliff into the unknown hoping to be caught by the open arms of the US president bearing the gift of a massive trade deal.

More on the issue

Mega trade deal

I would expect that Boris is secretly disenchanted with the buddy across the pond with the realisation that there is no such thing as an American free lunch during the Trump era. That promised mega trade deal comes with a high price ticket of ‘Do what we tell you, else forget it’.

Britain has long been accused of behaving like the 51st state; its participation in the vastly unpopular 2003 Iraq War drummed up on the basis of fake intelligence by American neo-conservatives with an invasion to-do list is a case in point.

Then UK Prime Minister Tony Blair was forced to choose between the will of his own people who took to the streets to protest in their millions and the preservation of the ‘Special’ Transatlantic relationship. Dubbed George W. Bush’s lapdog, he chose the latter.

He signed off on “dodgy” and ‘sexed-up” intelligence dossiers and when the truth emerged that Saddam Hussain had destroyed his WMD arsenal post 1991, the British public refused to forgive him.

Although he has enriched himself with lucrative board memberships and speaking tours, he retains pariah status at home. I fear that Johnson may be sleepwalking into the trap that snared Blair.

U-turn on Huawei

According to the Observer, the British government’s U-turn on Huawei’s role in the country’s 5G telecoms network was not due to any new security risk, which is the official explanation, but for “geopolitical reasons following huge pressure from Donald Trump”.

Not so long ago Boris was gung-ho on Huawei’s capabilities and anxious to sign deals but he has been forced to cave to instructions from the White House.

Trump’s own words confirm what Number 10 would like to downplay. “We convinced many countries, many countries, — and I did this myself for the most part — not to use Huawei because we think it’s an unsafe security risk,” he boasted.

Apparently the Chinese technology giant was told that were Trump voted out of office in November and Washington’s antipathy towards Beijing eased, the decision to end Huawei’s participation “could be revisited”. So there you have it! So much for the UK’s ability to forge independent policies even on domestic matters!

Beijing is not amused. It vows to secure the interests of Chinese companies and I very much doubt that heavy hitting Chinese investors will be gravitating towards UK assets this year or next at a time when Britain’s economy has shrunk by a quarter.

The next battleground

The next US/UK battle ground will be over differing food standards. The EU’s food safety standards at far superior to America’s and the British people have made it crystal clear they do not want chlorinated chicken or beef fed with hormones and steroids in their supermarket.

Many of the major grocery chains, among them Waitrose, Booths and Aldi’s have stated they will never stock such items that contravene current food and animal welfare standards. But the US government demands free access for American farmers to UK markets else, sorry no trade deal.

Boris Johnson is caught between the EU, the US and the preservation of sovereignty which at its core allows leaders to decide on what’s best for their nation and people unencumbered by outside influences. In this current game of chicken we have yet to see which way Johnson will jump.

Will he once again kowtow to Washington disregarding the feelings of consumers, farmers, food stores and parliamentarians or will be maintain Britain’s new found independence come what may?

Any major concessions he might make to the Trump White House could be a slippery slope. Besides Donald Trump admires and respects strong autocratic leaders.

The abandonment of Huawei and the likely entrée of meat products plumped up with chemicals are two steps towards the British PM’s poodle status. The questions remains have Britons swapped one master for another? On that the jury is still out.

— Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British political columnist and guest television commentator with a focus on the Middle East.