Boris Johnson, Britain’s foreign minister, has once again shown his capacity for completely contradicting himself without shame or embarrassment.
As one of the main architects of the campaign to get the UK to leave the European Union, Johnson repeatedly said that Turkey’s EU accession would result in a flood of Turkish immigration to the UK, even though he had to know that Turkey was nowhere close to meeting the criteria for EU membership. It became one of the key messages of the pro-Brexit campaign.
This week, however, Johnson was in Turkey, and said that the UK would do “anything it could” to support Turkey’s bid to join the EU. He said all this as he shook the hand of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whom he had portrayed a few months earlier in a limerick (which won an anti-Erdogan poetry prize) as having sex with a goat.
So the guy who built a campaign based on fears about Turkey joining the EU and insulted its leader in the crassest way possible is now ready to welcome the country with open arms?
That’s just the beginning.
Johnson’s anti-Turkey stance in the run-up to Brexit was itself a complete reversal of the position he had held before. In 2006, reports Buzzfeed, he not only supported Turkey’s bid to join the block but made a BBC documentary in which he said he could not wait for “the “great moment” when the two halves of the Roman Empire “are at last reunited in an expanded European Union.” He also said: “The crowning irony is those who would keep the Turks out, on the grounds that they are un-European, would thereby disbar the city that for a thousand years was the heart of the Roman Empire and which preserved our European civilisation.”
Johnson’s shameless merry-go-round of positions calls to mind Donald Trump’s ping-pong match of policy stances on things like Muslims, Mexicans and his own taxes, which seem to change weekly, daily, or even within the one-and-a-half hours of this week’s presidential debate.
The difference is that Trump is running as an anti-establishment, shoot-from-the-hip, non-politically-correct candidate who does not fashion himself as an intellectual. Johnson is Eton and Cambridge-educated, loves to play cricket with high-brow lords, and wrote a substantive biography of Winston Churchill (paywall).
Another difference between the two men is that, as Trump’s ghost-writer, Tony Schwartz, told the New Yorker in a profile earlier this year, Trump’s defining feature is a remarkably short attention span, and he seems to have a capacity not just for lying, but for convincing himself that his own lies are true. It’s hard to believe that someone as clearly intellectual as Johnson is similarly unaware of his own opportunistic use of facts.
The final difference: Trump may not win the presidency. Johnson is already near the top of his government.