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Boris Johnson's G-7 conundrum

Christina Boyle and Laura King, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LONDON -- British Prime Minister Boris Johnson heads into this weekend's Group of 7 summit with a particular distinction: Of all the leaders taking part, none has been the recipient of such lavish praise from President Donald Trump. The U.S. president has called him a "good man," a leader who can get things done, and -- perhaps Trump's highest accolade -- Britain's Trump.

For Johnson, who will mark a month in office during the gathering, a warm relationship with Trump -- a longtime cheerleader of Britain's exit from the European Union -- could prove an asset and a liability.

In addition to Britain and the U.S., the G-7 is made up of some of America's closest allies: Germany, France, Japan, Canada and Italy. But as NATO ally Denmark discovered this week, historical bonds of friendship sometimes offer scant shelter from a stormy blast of disapproval from the U.S. president.

With the Oct. 31 Brexit deadline 10 weeks away and no terms of Britain's divorce from the remaining 27 EU nations in hand, a public show of solidarity from Washington could help bolster Johnson's claims that the pain of breaking with the bloc will be offset, at some point, by a robust and far-reaching new trade arrangement with the United States.

At the same time, a too-tight embrace from Trump does little to endear Johnson to the British public, which is notably unenthusiastic about the U.S. president, or to European leaders, whose politesse overlies resentment of Trump's repeated attempts to undermine the EU.

Johnson has been trying to tamp down public fears over the potentially catastrophic effect of a no-deal departure from the EU, especially after a leaked government document last week laid out grim scenarios including shortages of foodstuffs and medicines.


Brexit's backers say leaving the EU will enhance Britain's stature in the world, but many commentators at home and on the continent say it could instead result in a state of virtual vassalage to Trump's America. The German newspaper Die Tageszeitung this week played slyly off Trump's talk of buying Greenland, which was rebuffed by leaders of Greenland and of Denmark, the kingdom of which the vast Arctic island is part.

"Can't Trump Just Buy England?" the newspaper, known as Taz, asked in a satirical headline.

At home, where Johnson may soon face a general election, some veteran British politicians have warned Johnson about too much chumminess with Trump.

"This is a highly transactional administration," former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said last week in an interview with the BBC. "You don't get something for nothing."


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