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Ash Sarkar: Boris Johnson Is Not Fit to Be British Prime Minister

Web ExclusiveJuly 25, 2019
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Ash Sarkar, senior editor at Novara Media, talks about the deep opposition to new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We’re continuing our discussion with journalist Ash Sarkar about Boris Johnson, the newly elected prime minister of the United Kingdom. Boris Johnson was sworn in as the new British prime minister Wednesday, pledging to deliver a swift Brexit and spending his first full day in office Thursday packing his Cabinet with hard-line Brexiteers.

AMY GOODMAN: Boris Johnson is a highly contentious figure in the United Kingdom who’s built his career on controversy. He’s a close ally of President Donald Trump, known for outrageous political gaffes. He has vowed to cut taxes for the rich and positioned himself as a friend to big banks.

Ash Sarkar stays with us, of Novara Media. She was in the streets yesterday as thousands marched against the new prime minister.

Ash Sarkar, talk about why people were in the streets. Even those that tried to stop him lined up and for a few seconds did stop him from getting to Buckingham Palace. I believe those protesters were protesting around the issue of the climate crisis.

ASH SARKAR: So, there are lots of different reasons why people came out to protest Boris Johnson, but what they were united in was their disdain for a system which has imposed a prime minister who is deeply divisive on the rest of the electorate. Of course, it was a 0.35% of the electorate who even got to have a say in who would be our next prime minister. So there was a really deep feeling of there being a democratic deficit in this country, and needing to mobilize and to participate to say, “Hey, this just isn’t on.”

And then there were much more specific criticisms of what Boris Johnson himself stands for. So, he has a history of making statements which are deeply offensive and reactionary. For instance, he wrote in The Telegraph referring to black people as “flag-waving piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles.” He wrote, again for The Telegraph, more recently, an article comparing Muslim women who wear the niqab to bank robbers and letter boxes. He also has written articles describing gay people as “tank-top-wearing bum boys.” So, he’s someone who, in order to increase his own public profile, has spent a lot of time kicking down at some of the most marginalized and vulnerable people in society.

And then there was also the case of his Cabinet picks. So, Priti Patel, who had to resign her previous ministerial post when she broke the ministerial code by basically trying to open up a unofficial diplomatic back channel to Israel, committing British resources to the Golan Heights, which, of course, is not recognized as Israeli territory by international law, and then lying to her own prime minister about it. She also is the first home secretary in decades who is in favor of capital punishment. These views are, of course, deeply out of step with most of the British public.

You also have the fact that Boris Johnson himself hasn’t always been convinced, shall we say, by the idea of man-made climate change. And at the moment, Britain and the rest of Europe is in the grip of a heat wave. We are reaching 38 degrees Celsius today, which is really unusual for this country, which is much more used to rain and cloud. And there is this sense that climate issues need to be tackled with some urgency and with the seriousness that it deserves. And Boris Johnson is not someone who is capable of doing that. So that was another big mobilizing factor for people yesterday.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Ash Sarkar, as we mentioned earlier, I mean, half of Theresa May’s Cabinet has resigned. Boris Johnson has been filling the Cabinet positions today. Among the many who have resigned is a very important position, the Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, who was crucial to trying to stop a no-deal Brexit. He’s been replaced. The new finance minister is Sajid Javid, the former head of—managing director of Deutsche Bank. So, can you talk about this coming as they approach—as we approach October 31st and Boris Johnson’s commitment to going through even with a no-deal Brexit?

ASH SARKAR: So, the first thing that Boris Johnson had to do was get rid of any Cabinet ministers who might try and stop him going for a no-deal Brexit. Now, just because some of your viewers might not be familiar with what a no-deal Brexit is, it means that the United Kingdom leaves the EU without a deal. Now, that would mean a huge shock to the British economy. It basically means that every framework we have for trading with the European Union, or indeed trade deals that we have which are negotiated through the European Union, completely evaporates overnight. So, big, big economic disruption. And in order to plan for a no-deal Brexit, Philip Hammond, the previous chancellor of the exchequer, created 26 billion pounds of borrowing headroom. So the idea was that the Treasury would have to borrow more to provide essentially financial cushioning for this kind of economic shock.

Now, Boris Johnson is doing two things. On the one hand, he’s saying, “'No deal' is nothing to be scared of. The EU won’t give us a good deal if we flinch away from it, so we have to show that we’re willing to go through with it.” And also, on the other hand, he’s making spending commitments, which involve eating into that no-deal borrowing headroom. So, for instance, he’s pledged 9 billion pounds in tax cuts for some of the highest earners, people who earn up to 80,000 pounds. So, whatever reputation the Conservative Party once had for financial competence and responsibility has been completely slung out the window. And that’s what the replacement of Philip Hammond with Sajid Javid means.

AMY GOODMAN: Ash Sarkar is senior editor at Novara Media, was in the streets covering the protests yesterday in London as Boris Johnson became the new prime minister of the United Kingdom.

To see Part 1 of our discussion, go to democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. Thanks so much for joining us.

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