Every time Johnson has a problem, he calls Zelenskiy – and the bill quickly mounts | Simon Jenkins
OWhat do you do when you’re in big trouble? Boris Johnson has had enough, but does he consult his chief whip, his political aides, his secretaries or his wife? Curiously, he turns to someone who has even more problems than himself, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Last Wednesday, the Prime Minister suffered the humiliating departure of his so-called “ethics” adviser, Lord Geidt. Johnson was facing a critical meeting with Northern MPs ahead of the upcoming Wakefield by-election. He was a three-line whip: nowhere was his presence more vital to boosting morale and finding votes. Yet shortly after Geidt’s statement, Johnson canceled his ticket to Yorkshire in favor of a ticket across Europe deep into Ukrainian territory. He clearly and desperately needed the hug and consoling conversation of his friend Zelenskiy. Putin’s dodging and weaving of missile batteries clearly has nothing to do with the cluster munitions of a group of Conservative backbenchers.
Diary i’s research revealed that these sudden clashes with Zelenskiy coincided precisely with Johnson’s most acute moments of embarrassment. On June 6, Sir Graham Brady announced that Tory MPs were ready to vote for the leadership of their party. Within three hours, Johnson was on the phone with Zelenskiy. A month earlier, on May 5, the day of the disastrous local election, Johnson had sought solace from the same source. On April 30, news of MP Neil Parish’s resignation was devastating. Johnson called Kyiv. On April 23, news broke that the Met was issuing fines for a bring your own bottle lockdown party in Downing Street. Johnson called Kyiv. On April 16, when the UN undermined the Rwandan plan, Johnson called Kyiv. On April 12, Johnson was fined by the Metropolitan Police for Partygate and he called Kyiv. Was it really to discuss strategy in the Donbass? Surely it was just a celebrity shoulder to cry on and a good news headline.
One wonders what the hell they are talking about. Is Johnson arguing that Vladimir Putin should be absolute cinch compared to his Keir Starmer? Are they discussing peace in our day or what they had for tea? All we know is that on almost every occasion Johnson talks through the air about another slice of British taxpayers’ money for Ukraine. This has to be the most expensive psychotherapy session in history.
Of course, all of these calls may be pure coincidence. All leaders need guidance and comfort, and often find it in special places. Churchill had his Normanbrook, Thatcher his Whitelaw, Blair his Mandelson. As he prepared for his duties, Johnson dismissed all plausible sources of impartial advice, relying on the unreliable Dominic Cummings. Today, he seems to rely on an inexperienced wife and Ukrainian comedian-turned-leader, supposedly having time to kill to assuage Johnson’s domestic woes, as opposed to the more pressing concerns of confronting a bloodthirsty invader.
Johnson has clearly fallen back on the last resort of any struggling leader, whether autocrat or Democrat, which is to find a good war. Starting a war saved his predecessor Thatcher, and fighting one made his idol Churchill’s reputation. Perhaps we should be thankful that Johnson didn’t throw one of his own. Instead, he hijacked someone else. Is this really the best he can do?