Brexit's Last Action Hero

Our Political Editor, Patrick Sullivan argues that Boris Johnson is a classically liberal revolutionary.

Patrick Sullivan, Political Editor
On 29 August 2019 13:19

All political parties of coalitions and within both Conservative and Republican parties, there exists both classically liberal and populist strains. Because of certain issues there is significant overlap, these two can often work together reasonably harmoniously. However, there are noticeable differences on issues such as trade and certain aspects of culture.


As a pronounced supporter of President Trump, I was slightly irritated by the comparisons made between the man who is President and the man who would become Prime Minister. It is obvious from the scenes at this weekend’s G7 summit and the President’s full-throated support of Mr Johnson on his must-read Twitter feed, that the two have developed something of a rapport and seem to get along famously. That having been said, Boris Johnson did extremely politely tell President Trump about his differing attitude on the matter of free trade, saying that Britain had benefitted for over 200 years as a result of it and about the US-China trade war, he was in favour of world peace. The polite and respectful manner in which this difference was expressed meant that it was taken by the President as a slight, honest disagreement between good friends.

Because of Mr Johnson’s role in the Brexit campaign, which was widely regarded to be a populist revolt against the establishment, many have mistakenly taken Mr Johnson for a populist. It must be remembered that before he spearheaded the vote leave campaign, Mr Johnson was the successful mayor of liberal London.

As Margaret Thatcher’s favourite newspaper columnist in the latter days of her premiership, it is unsurprising that Mr Johnson would hold views in Sympatico with the iron lady. Our new Prime Minister is a firm believer in free trade, as is evident by the appointment of Tufton Street darling Liz Truss as secretary of state for international trade.

You might even say that Mr Johnson is not a conservative, if such a thing truly exists these days. One of Baroness Thatcher’s favourite tomes was the Constitution of Liberty by F A Hayek. The final chapter of the book was entitled “Why I am not a conservative”, in which Hayek places himself in the tradition of the wigs of the 18th and 19th century.

Due to the rise of socialism, the Conservative Party became a big tent for those who in another century would have been considered more classically liberal than traditionally Tory. Thatcherism was a strangely revolutionary doctrine for the Conservative Party at the time. Mr Johnson through his bold leadership yesterday proved himself to be every bit as revolutionary as Mrs Thatcher.

Donald Trump comes from a different tradition within the centre right coalition. His views on trade and on speaking softly and carrying a big stick, as well as the mastery of the media of his time, have more in common with the Republicanism of Theodore Roosevelt, the original Republican populist, than it does the more recent liberal Republicanism of Ronald Regan.

The Conservative Party of Boris Johnson resembles more the Republican Party of compassionate conservatism and George W Bush, slightly tainted by the war of terror. The American leader Mr Johnson most represents in style and in policy was that of the only major successful Republican in state-wide California politics, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Schwarzenegger, who is a friend of Mr Johnson, was also a bold, broad-strokes leader who mixed traditional, classical liberal economics (he was an admirer of Milton Friedman) with liberal social policy and climate change awareness.

People shouldn’t worry too much about Boris proroguing Parliament. 

He’ll be back…


Patrick Sullivan is the Political Editor of The Commentator @PatJSullivan

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