Where has the optimism gone? Where is the spirit of “Get Brexit Done”, the mantra that was repeated with such conviction by the Conservatives that it carried them to a general election victory 12 weeks ago? Jeremy Corbyn’s parting shot to UK politics is his accusation that Boris Johnson is a “part time Prime Minister”. I’m sorry to say this is not unjustified. Britain is crying out for strong leadership, especially after Theresa May’s dismal stint in Number 10. Johnson needs to step up a gear.
When things go wrong, people expect to see their leaders at the scene. Take the recent floods. While the scale of this natural disaster is nowhere near that of the Blitz, when Churchill and the King visited victims, it has heaped misery on thousands of people.
Bafflingly, Johnson has not bothered to show his face in the affected areas.
This is in sharp contrast to President Trump. In the last few days, a tornado killed 25 people in Tennessee. Trump was in the area swiftly, offering his condolences and promising government help.
Likewise in 2014, the Somerset Levels suffered appalling flooding. Owen Paterson, then the Environment Secretary, visited. He talked to people about the problems the flood caused. Before long, he helped set up a new management regime for the area, with dredging back in operation and the demands of the eco-warriors ignored.
Guess what? In the recent flooding crisis, Somerset has been unaffected. This example shows that leaders must lead but they can also learn and then act. This country wants to like Johnson, but when he ignores those in peril, it makes that job more difficult.
The coronavirus crisis is not easy for any leader to tackle. A balance must be struck between being calm and realistic. Yet, again, our prime minister has been slow out of the blocks.
Leaders in Australia and America, on the other hand, took to the airwaves and put in place sensible travel restrictions. They did their best to show who was in charge.
Johnson did not make his first major press appearance until Monday. And while it was right that he was flanked by the Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Scientific Officer, it was clear his knowledge is limited.
The containment phase that was announced lasted only until Thursday, when the impressive Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said we had moved on to the ‘delay’ phase of COVID-19.
But hours later, Johnson said the U.K. was still in the containment phase. This looked incompetent and showed a major lack of attention to detail. On the Coronavirus crisis, Boris must get a grip.
The leadership vacuum is most apparent, however, when it comes to Britain’s future trade, investment and security arrangements with America and Australia.
I spent several days in Washington recently. I met many senior political and government figures, as documented in last week’s Sunday Express. I was even given the opportunity to address the Republican Senator’s retreat.
What struck me was a new phrase being used in relation to the United Kingdom: the “Four Eyes partnership”. This is thanks to the government’s recent dangerous decision to involve Chinese firm Huawei in the building of our 5G network.
Whereas high level intelligence data is currently shared among the “Five Eyes” nations of Canada, America, Australia, the UK and New Zealand, Britain may in future be cut out.
Far from Brexit strengthening the US/UK special relationship, it is going into reverse.
Indeed, when I talked to Senator Ted Cruz for America’s most popular political podcast, he said “four eyes are better than six eyes”.