President Donald Trump congratulated Boris Johnson on becoming the leader of the Conservative Party and the United Kingdom’s next prime minister Tuesday, praising the man he says is referred to as “Britain Trump.”
Trump has often characterized Johnson as a friend, and touted him as a potential prime minister even while Theresa May was in office. The two men also indicated a mutual willingness to work with each other should Johnson win the leadership contest.
But while there is perhaps no greater compliment in Trump’s mind than comparing another world leader to himself, it seems the US President has, for now, moved past the fact that Johnson publicly criticized him prior to the 2016 election.
Johnson blasted Trump in December 2015 after the billionaire businessman implied that areas of London were dangerous due to radicalization while Johnson was mayor of the city, saying: “The only reason I wouldn’t visit some parts of New York is the real risk of meeting Donald Trump.”
Much to Johnson’s chagrin, he was later mistaken for Trump on the streets of New York City.
“I am genuinely worried that he could become president. I was in New York and some photographers were trying to take a picture of me and a girl walked down the pavement towards me and she stopped and she said, ‘Gee is that Trump?’ It was one of the worst moments.”
Yet, Trump’s remarks Tuesday indicate that he and Johnson have reconciled those differences, at least for now.
“We have a really good man is going to be the Prime Minister of the UK now. Boris Johnson. Good man. He’s tough and he’s smart. They’re saying, ‘Britain Trump.’ They call him Britain Trump and people are saying that’s a good thing,” Trump said while speaking at the Turning Point USA’s Teen Action Summit in Washington.
“They like me over there. That’s what they wanted. That’s what they need. He’ll get it done. Boris is good. He’s gonna do a good job,” he added.
Trump also announced that Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, who has consistently defended the President on Fox News, was in the audience.
“I said what’s Nigel doing here? He’s a little older than you folks but he did a great job. I know he’s going to work well with Boris. They’re going to do some tremendous things,” he said.
Trump a factor in British politics
Despite his previous criticism of Trump, Johnson did his best to avoid bashing the US President ahead of his landslide victory in a ballot of Conservative Party members against rival Jeremy Hunt.
Trump featured heavily in the debates during the Tory leadership campaign, with Johnson’s comments supporting the US President coming under scrutiny.
During a televised debate against Hunt, Johnson refused to confirm that he would keep Britain’s ambassador to the United States Kim Darroch in his post, after Darroch’s cables describing the Trump administration as “inept” and “incompetent” were leaked.
Trump attacked Darroch publicly, and Darroch resigned the day after the debate.
Later in the campaign, Johnson was pressed on another Trump-related controversy — the President’s racist tweets suggesting that four US congresswomen of color should “go back” to the countries they came from, even though all four are American.
The Conservative candidate received another round of criticism when he refused to say whether he thought Trump’s tweets were racist. He did, however, say the tweets were “totally unacceptable,” adding that he “can’t understand” how an American leader would use such language.
Johnson has stressed the need to work with Trump and has gained support from the President for his tough Brexit stance. Both men have criticized May’s approach, with Johnson calling for the prospect of a no-deal Brexit and Trump claiming, according to May, that he would have “sued” the EU.
In an interview with CNN on Tuesday, Boris’ father, Stanley Johnson, said he thinks his son will get along with Trump — but warned that the relationship cannot be subservient.
“They have the same hairstyle,” he said. “I think they will get on.”
He added: “We’re going have to be careful not to be too slavishly geared toward America,” and insisted that “building bridges” with Europe after Brexit will also be crucial.
Johnson compared to Trump
In addition to having similar hairstyles, Johnson, like Trump, is famous for his colorful rhetoric over the years and distaste for political correctness. While the New York-born, former London mayor has expressed considerable admiration for the country of his birth over the years, he did renounce his American citizenship following a dispute over a US tax bill.
He has also attacked American political leaders, including former President Barack Obama.
As mayor of London, Johnson previously lambasted Obama’s Kenyan heritage while attacking his opposition to a British exit from the European Union, a cause Johnson strongly championed.
In an April 2016 op-ed, Johnson recounted a story of a bust of legendary British Prime Minister Winston Churchill being removed from the White House and sent to the British Embassy when Obama became president.
“No one was sure whether the President had himself been involved in the decision. Some said it was a snub to Britain. Some said it was a symbol of the part-Kenyan President’s ancestral dislike of the British Empire — of which Churchill had been such a fervent defender,” he wrote at the time.
Trump has often disparaged his predecessor’s Kenyan roots and spearheaded a “birther” smear against Obama in which he falsely claimed the former President was not born in the US and demanding to see his birth certificate.
Johnson has also made controversial comments about another one of the US President’s favorite targets, Trump’s 2016 presidential opponent Hillary Clinton.
In 2007, Johnson ridiculed Clinton’s physical appearance in his Telegraph column, writing: “She’s got dyed blonde hair and pouty lips, and a steely blue stare, like a sadistic nurse in a mental hospital.”
Johnson attempted in the same op-ed to justify a second Clinton presidency with another dig: “For all who love America, it is time to think of supporting Hillary, not because we necessarily want her for herself but because we want Bill in the role of First Husband. And if Bill can deal with Hillary, he can surely deal with any global crisis.”