The Trump-Johnson deal-making dilemma

How can the leaders of two nations who are both inveterate and known liars and backstabbers negotiate a workable deal? It is hard to make a deal if you think the other party will renege on it at the first opportunity, even to the extent of not honoring any commitment that they themselves publicly make in the negotiations.

We may soon find out.

New British prime minister Boris Johnson has been described as dissembling, dishonest, dark, and duplicitous, qualities that he shares with Donald Trump. So while there may well be a genuine ‘special relationship’ between the two of them as individuals, I am curious about how they will arrive at deals since neither party can be trusted an inch to negotiate in good faith.

Trump cannot be trusted to keep his word on any deal nor to honor any deal made by his predecessors or even those made by administration officials who are supposedly negotiating on his behalf. He does not even honor his own words since he denies that he said anything when he has just said it and there are witness and even video evidence that he said it.

Meanwhile Johnson makes all manner of promises that he knows he cannot keep and is also willing to lie to get immediate advantage. He is desperate to make a deal with Trump to justify his pulling out of the EU, which makes him vulnerable to Trump’s bullying.

What we can possible expect after a meeting of these two geniuses is a joint statement that they arrived at a magnificent deal that immensely benefits both nations that we will later find is full of holes because neither of them can be bothered to work out the details that are the backbone of international deals.

But it is not clear that we will ever find out. In a by-election held a couple of days ago, the Conservative party lost the seat in Wales to the Liberal Democrats where the latter party forged an alliance with other anti-Brexit parties. Wales voted against for Brexit back in 2016. The Conservatives now have just 311 seats and their ‘confidence and supply’ DUP allies from Northern Ireland have 10 seats, giving a total of 321 seats. This gives them just a one-seat majority over the opposition that consists of Labour with 247 and the 74 seats from other opposition parties for a total of also 321. The total number of seats is 650 of which the speaker is considered non-partisan and the seven members of the Sinn Fein never attend parliament, so effectively there are just 642 seats and a majority requires 322. (It seems like there is a tie in parliament but I see reports that the Conservatives now have a majority of just one. I don’t understand how that works out. Is it because by tradition the speaker votes with the government in the case of a tie vote?)

Johnson has been warned that his hard right turn in his cabinet and his drive to leave the EU even without a deal could risk defections from his party, leading to a collapse of his government and new elections that could result in him losing the premiership even before he can try to make any deals with Trump.


  1. xohjoh2n says

    The Speaker’s role in tied votes is more nuanced:

    There are sometimes other exclusions than just Sinn Féin and the Speaker, at the moment this is just the 3 Deputy Speakers but can at other times include vacancies until a by-election can be held, or disciplinary suspensions. So the voting total is actually 639.

    This article goes into the current parliamentary arithmetic a bit -- the short version is that the working majority is only really likely to be important for confidence or supply motions, for regular policy votes not tied to confidence, such as doing anything about Brexit will require, things are a *lot* messier:

  2. file thirteen says

    It’s not really accurate to say that the Conservatives are on the brink of losing their majority. In at least one sense they’ve already lost it -- party lines are already well and truly broken when it comes to votes on Brexit for example. But don’t expect there to be an immediate election should the Conservatives lose another seat. Government vs Opposition is an oversimplification of the chaotic mess in parliament at the moment. If you look at what the Guardian lists as “opposition” (the last link provided by xohjoh2n #1) you’ll see a bunch of independents there, all of whom are not necessarily motivated to bring down the Government.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    … Boris Johnson has been described as dissembling, dishonest, dark, and duplicitous…

    Yes, but he has a negative side too.

    At least he seems to have genuinely blond genuine hair.

  4. chigau (違う) says

    There is an eerie resemblance between Boris and Trump but Boris has a functioning brain.

  5. xohjoh2n says

    I wouldn’t necessarily go as far as “functioning”, just better educated. Johnson can be racist in Latin too!

  6. sonofrojblake says

    Alexander Johnson is a genius. He was a King’s Scholar at Eton. You can buy a place at Eton (it’s well known as the place you go if you’re too thick even for Harrow). You cannot buy a King’s Scholarship. He’s a very bright boy indeed. Which just makes the cuddly buffoon act (including the use of “Boris” as a stage name -- his friends call him Al) all the more sinister.

    Also, Mano, I have no ideas where you got the idea that Wales voted against Brexit. That’s simply false.

  7. Mano Singham says


    Sorry for the error. I read somewhere that in the wake of a no-deal Brexit, Northern Ireland , Scotland, and Wales might leave the UK and I think that put the idea in my head that Wales had also voted against it.

    I have corrected the error.

  8. KG says

    It’s going to be extremely difficult to prevent the Johnson-Cummings junta from pushing through a no-deal crash-out Brexit on October 31st. A request for an extension has to come from the UK government, it is almost impossible for the commons to force Johnson to ask for one, and even if Johnson lost a confidence vote as early as possible after Parliament reconvenes on 3rd September, he would remain as caretaker PM -- and “advise” the Queen on when to hold an election. Dominic Cummings, who ran the “Vote Leave” campaign, is widely reported to have gloated that Johnson would advise that the election be held after October 31st. He could then run as “the man who delivered Brexit”, against a badly split opposition whose policy positions on Brexit would have been rendered otiose, and blaming all the chaos on “teething problems”, the EU, the “doomsters and gloomsters”, and any other convenient scapegoats. He’d probably need little more than 30% of the vote for an outright majority. Only if an alternative government could be formed within 14 days of the no-confidence vote could that scenario be prevented -- and apart from the procedural difficulties, Labour’s Rebecca Long-Bailey (one of the “Lexiteers” around Corbyn) has said Labour would not take part in the GNU (Government of National Unity) that would be the only chance of forming one. So we’ll very likely be getting the hard right, deregulate, low tax for the rich, smash-the-welfare-state and sell off the NHS government that was always the natural outcome of the 2016 vote. Thanks, Lexiteers!

    At least up until there’s an election, Trump’s trump card is Farage. Johnson is almost certain to get a majority if Farage stands down the BUF (British Union of Farageists). And Farage will almost certainly do what Trump tells him (although he and Cummings apparently hate each other -- in both cases, of course, with very good reason).

  9. KG says

    Further to my #10, here is a Grauniad article on the question of a GNU. The Labour position looks slightly more nuanced than the first report of Long-Bailey’s remarks I read suggested, but not much more hopeful. There’s an interesting point in the latter half of the article: John McDonnell, shadow chancellor and close to Corbyn (although he’s taken a rather different line on Brexit) saying Labour would not oppose a new Scottish independence referendum (a recent poll showed a small “Yes” majority for the first time since 2017). Within that segment, there’s an amusing Freudian slip, McDonnell referring to Westminster as “the English Parliament”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *