Challenging the numerous headlines cementing newly elected British Prime Minister Boris Johnson as “Britain’s Donald Trump,” John Oliver examined the crucial differences between the two politicians on Sunday’s Last Week Tonight.
“Given that Britain’s new leader is a clownish figure with silly hair and a passing relationship with the truth, you may already be thinking of the person you’re almost always thinking about anyway,” the host said. “[The comparison] is neither exactly wrong nor exactly right. Johnson is actually a lot more complex than Trump in a number of important ways.”
One major distinction, the comedian said, is how the two handle their public image: Oliver argued that Johnson is more calculating in how he presents himself to the world — from his willingness to “look ridiculous” (like the time he got stuck on a zip-line during the 2012 Olympic celebrations) to his constantly ruffled hair.
“That right there is the key to Boris Johnson: Presenting his own lack of preparation so charmingly that you actually doubt he’s unprepared, but he is,” Oliver said. “Can you imagine Trump having that level of self-reflection? With ‘covfefe,’ the tactic was to present myself as a kind of sub-literate clown to distract you from the fact that I’m a mound of skin tautly stretched across the howling chasm of the space where a soul should be. It’s a very useful tool when employed well.”
But the host argued that beneath Johnson’s “surface charm” lurked some “truly nasty” qualities. “For one thing, he is a liar,” Oliver said. “As a young journalist, he was fired from his first job at The Times of London for completely making up a quote… From there, Johnson failed upwards to a job at The Daily Telegraph, where he built a following on a series of flagrant falsehoods about the European Union as their Brussels correspondent — falsehoods that would help lay the groundwork for the Brexit vote decades later.”
Oliver focused on one of Johnson’s most ridiculous lies, that Europe was “attempting to ban” the prawn-flavored cocktail chip. “Europe was never planning to abolish them, and they immediately pointed that out,” the comedian said. “But Boris’ allegation spread like wildfire and became a popular example of an out-of-control EU. And as recently as 2016, a full 25 years after his bullshit was debunked, Boris actually cited the ‘great war against her British prawn cocktail flavor crisp’ as part of his case for Brexit.”
Johnson has also relied on “bigotry” during his political career, Oliver noted, highlighting how he referred to gay men as “tank-topped bumboys” in 1998 and said burkas made women look like “bank robbers” and “letter boxes” in 2018.
Johnson is now tasked with guiding Britain through a massive political challenge: Finalizing the Brexit withdrawal deal by October 31st. “If [he] messes up the Brexit negotiation, the pile-up of shit could be considerable here,” Oliver said, “as most economists believe a ‘no-deal’ Brexit would cause a deep recession.”
“Johnson has now backed himself into a corner,” the host continued. “Because Parliament has rejected the EU’s deal; the EU says there is no better deal to be had — there is really no good way out of this. Meaning that he’s pretty much now stranded… The consequences of messing that up could have catastrophic ramifications for Britain, Europe and the world.”