US President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have had an interesting dynamic since Johnson replaced Theresa May as leader of the Conservative Party in July. The pair have met on a few occasions and Trump has been complimentary of Johnson on social media.
After Johnson’s resounding victory in the recent UK general election, Trump was one of the first to laud the prime minister, offering “congratulations to Boris Johnson on his great WIN!” Of course, Trump has an election of his own on the horizon, the 2020 US presidential election. Donald Trump’s odds for re-election are currently favourable for the president winning a second term, and you can understand him wanting to keep Johnson and the UK as a close ally.
The similarities between the two
There has been a tendency among American commentators to refer to Johnson as ‘Britain’s Trump’ – even Trump used this phrase in one of his speeches. While this is suggestive of more shared similarities between the two than exist in actuality, there are certainly parallels in the ways that both Trump and Johnson have risen to power.
Trump’s campaign ahead of the 2016 presidential election took advantage of a section of the US population frustrated with the Obama administration and worried about the effect immigration was having on the country. In that same year, Johnson was campaigning for the Brexit referendum, pushing the similar idea that the UK needed to leave the EU to take back control of their borders.
Both men have utilised populist campaign tactics to build support, and both have caused controversy with their rhetoric and their past comments. While it’s redundant to draw too many similarities between Trump and Johnson, it’s clear that both have been like-minded in how they’ve gone about influencing politics.
How they’ve interacted so far
As soon as Johnson was confirmed as Theresa May’s successor as prime minister, Trump was singing his praises. “We have a really good man who’s going to be the prime minister of the UK now,” he said. “He’s tough and he’s smart.”
The lavish compliments have been mostly one way, however. Johnson has been reluctant to speak publicly about Trump. During the general election campaign, the British prime minster distanced himself from the US president amid rumours that a Conservative government would include the NHS in a potential trade deal with the US. Both Johnson and Trump have rubbished those claims, and Johnson avoided a one-to-one meeting with Trump at December’s NATO gathering.
A strong bond between the pair would have greater advantages for Trump than it would for Johnson. Ahead of the US presidential election, the more friends in high places Trump has, the better his chances will be of winning a second term. A president who is popular among fellow world leaders is much more likely to gain the trust and respect of American voters.
For Johnson, his quest is to heal the divisions that have opened up in the UK since the Brexit referendum and the recent general election. To align himself too closely with Trump, a figure who is deeply unpopular among large sections of the British public, would not be advisable. For this reason, any potential trade deal between the UK and the US will need to be handled with great delicacy if Johnson is to build trust among the British public.
Whether Trump is re-elected or not remains to be seen, but if he is it’ll be interesting to see how the relationship between Trump and Johnson develops over the next few years.