Boris Johnson, sinking at home, has fans in Ukraine
Johnson’s approval ratings have plummeted and show few signs of improving. A wing of his own ruling party is in open rebellion against him. There is no certainty that Johnson, like Theresa May, the prime minister he replaced, can recover from a deadly vote of no confidence to lead the Tories in the next UK general election. The British public have already delivered a damning verdict: last week, her appearance at Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations was met with a chorus of boos from the otherwise enthusiastic crowd.
“He’s a wounded leader,” my colleagues reported. “He and the Tories will struggle to rebuild their brand in the face of soaring inflation and declining public confidence. And allies in Europe and the United States are now on notice that his authority has been undermined by his own actions.
How Boris Johnson went from a landslide victory to a vote of no confidence
Yet there is one remarkable ally who remains unfazed by Johnson’s domestic woes.. On Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on a conference call hosted by the Financial Times that he was “very happy” that Johnson had won the vote of no confidence, presenting him as a “true friend of Ukraine”.
“I’m glad we haven’t lost an important ally, that’s great news,” Zelensky said.
President @ZelenskyyUa just briefed me on the ongoing battle against Russian aggression in the Donbass.
It is clear that the Ukrainian people will not bow to Russian brutality. We are steadfast in our mission to ensure that Ukraine is defended and supported for the long term. pic.twitter.com/eiW0buOrX4
—Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) June 6, 2022
It wasn’t just polite rhetoric. Few Western leaders have tied themselves as closely to the Ukrainian cause as Johnson, who championed arms transfers to Ukraine early on and visited Kyiv in April, strolling through the Ukrainian capital with Zelensky. In May, he became the first foreign leader since the Russian invasion began to address the Ukrainian parliament.
“You have exploded the myth of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s invincibility and you have written one of the most glorious chapters in the military history and life of your country,” Johnson said via video address. “The so-called irresistible force of Putin’s war machine has shattered on the steadfast object of Ukrainian patriotism and love of country.”
Johnson, ever keen to invoke the spirit of Winston Churchill, described the brave Ukrainian resistance as the country’s “finest hour”, an “hour to be remembered and remembered for generations to come”.
Boris Johnson survives but is weakened by a vote of no confidence
During the war, Johnson established himself as Western Europe’s most vocal anti-Russian hawk. Freed from the obligations of European Union membership and his efforts to build political consensus within the continental bloc, Johnson has taken a more strident line in defending Ukraine’s interests. His stance has made him a frequent target of Russian state media, a geopolitical animosity he could welcome as his government struggles to shape Britain’s new “global” identity after Brexit.
On the day of the no-confidence vote, Johnson tweeted an image of himself at 10 Downing Street on the phone with Zelensky, along with a message offering “long term” support for Ukraine. After surviving the vote, Johnson’s office once again turned to Ukraine, issuing a statement following a cabinet meeting insisting it was “vital” that Zelensky not be ” forced to accept a bad peace deal” and that “the world must avoid any outcome where Putin’s unwarranted aggression seems to have paid off.
It is a tacit response to other prominent voices, both in the West and outside, calling for dialogue between Kyiv and Moscow to end the war quickly and stabilize a massively troubled global economy.
Johnson’s enthusiasm has not gone unnoticed in Ukraine. A town near the port city of Odessa is said to have named a street after the British prime minister. A candle bakery in Kyiv even concocted a special pastry in his honor – an apple and cinnamon cake decorated with a layer of frilly meringue on top, as a tribute to Johnson’s constantly neglected mop of hair.
“Boris Johnson is not only a prime minister but is also now a crescent,” the establishment announced on his Instagram account, according to the Telegraph.
In honor of the vote of no confidence, I tried a “Boris Johnson” croissant at a cafe in Kyiv today. It’s supposed to look like his badness and his hair. The uncharitable might suggest that he wins by being light and insubstantial. pic.twitter.com/FIJaeEsNJW
—Olivier Carroll (@olliecarroll) June 6, 2022
Few in Britain find Johnson so nice. The prime minister has been criticized, as Adam Taylor of Today’s Worldview noted a few months ago, for his history of ties to Russian oligarchs, ties that stretch across much of the conservative political firmament. As mayor of London, he presided over a status quo that saw a network of shadowy foreign elites park their capital in the British capital. The war prompted, critics say, a very belated government response to the infiltration of illicit wealth into the country’s economy.
Moreover, for all his loud applause for Ukraine’s war effort, Johnson and his government have taken in far fewer Ukrainian refugees than other European partners. In May, Johnson was forced to point out that asylum seekers from Ukraine would not be shipped to Rwanda, the African nation 4,000 miles away where Britain is now determined to send its asylum seekers.
Even before Russia launched its invasion, analysts spied Johnson’s embrace of Ukraine, a desperate attempt to invoke the legacy of Margaret Thatcher’s Falklands War. Thatcher faced mounting inflation and mounting domestic anger over her program, but the victorious conflict against Argentina in 1982 helped her win re-election and set in motion a decade of national overhaul.
“It was a minor post-colonial conflict, but the victory in the Atlantic helped to cement her reputation as an Iron Lady, one with Churchillian echoes, whose resolute leadership at a time of crisis helped make the Great Britain great again after a decade or more of drift and decline,” wrote Steven Fielding, professor of political history at the University of Nottingham.
“Talking about the Ukraine crisis offering Johnson a ‘Falklands moment’ is simply gold for desperate Tories,” Fielding added. “It shows they are whistling in the dark in the face of dire poll numbers for the prime minister and his party.”