It has now been exactly a week since Boris Johnson became the UK’s new prime minister.
Given his huge popularity among the Conservative Party faithful chomping at the bit to leave the European Union – Brexit – his thumping victory in the leadership contest over former Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt – 92,153 to 46,656 votes – was effectively a coronation.
Johnson and almost all of his freshly recruited Cabinet members have burnished their credentials as rabid ‘Brexiteers’ paying off handsomely in opinion polls. The blonde bombshell has buoyed public sentiment in recent days with the Sunday Times newspaper reporting a ‘Boris Bounce’.
A recent poll by the British-based international market research YouGov has pushed support for the Tory party to 31 per cent (up six percentage points from the previous survey), fuelling wide-spread speculation that a general election could be called within weeks, despite a fragile House of Commons majority and deadlock over Brexit.
The charismatic Eton and Oxford-educated new leader is a former journalist whose colourful turns of phrase and flowery oratorical skills have been key to his political successes as former two-term Mayor of London and now as UK premier.
All of that said, discerning Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities up and down the length of Great Britain could hardly be said to be impressed with him and his widely circulated opinions on matters of race.
While writing a column for one of England’s most right-wing magazines, The Spectator, in 2002, Johnson’s argument – ‘Africa is a mess, but we can’t blame colonialism’ – sought to absolve England of its role in the imperial project.
Describing the world’s second-largest and second most-populous continent as a ‘blot’, he wrote: “The problem is not that we were once in charge, but that we are not in charge any more…the best fate for Africa would be if the old colonial powers, or their citizens, scrambled once again in her direction; on the understanding that this time they will not be asked to feel guilty.”
‘Lower intelligence’ quotients
Penning a 2002 article for The Telegraph, and tapping into a rich vein of racist invective, he called black people ‘piccaninnies’ with ‘watermelon smiles’.
Keeping with this stereotypical theme in 2006, he painted a word portrait of Papua New Guineans as prone to ‘cannibalism’ and ‘chief-killing’ in a column for the same newspaper. As editor of The Spectator in 2008, Johnson permitted a piece to be published which made the claim that black people have lower intelligence quotient scores (IQs): “Orientals… have larger brains and higher IQ scores. Blacks are at the other pole.”
More recently, in 2018, Johnson’s highly inflammatory, anti-Islamic Telegraph article lashed out at the ‘oppressive’ women’s face veil (the burqa).
In the column, Johnson said he felt “fully entitled” to expect women to remove face coverings when talking to him at his MP surgery. He said schools and universities should be able to take the same approach if a student “turns up… looking like a bank robber”. He went on to write that it was “absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes”.
Lurch to the right
Even more concerning has been Boris Johnson’s cosiness with President Donald Trump who has gone so far as describing his ally in 10 Downing Street as a “British Trump”.
Footage unearthed in an Observer investigative report published last month revealed that far-right ideologue and former Trump staffer, Steve Bannon, helped craft Boris Johnson’s first speech after resigning as Foreign Secretary.
The unpublished footage, shot on July 2018 by American filmmaker Alison Klayman, records Bannon’s story of how he and Johnson had been in close contact particularly around the time of Johnson’s resignation from the May government. Bannon has described the jailed far-right activist Stephen Yaxley-Lennon – known as Tommy Robinson – as the “backbone” of Britain.
Of course, the Brexit-era shift to the right and far-right has given rise to the fierce rivalry between the Tory party and its close competitor, the Brexit Party, led by Nigel Farage.
Keen to appeal to a ‘Middle England’, caucasian and conservative (with a small ‘c’), the electorate energised by calls for a massive reduction in immigration numbers from Europe and England’s former colonies, the Tories now view themselves as the party for a ‘sensible immigration policy’ modelling merit-based schemes of Australia and Canada that favoured more highly skilled, highly educated immigrants.
In a move signalling tougher immigration laws, newly appointed Home Secretary Priti Patel has stated her intention to create an immigration system “where we decide who comes here based on what they have to offer”. Ironic this, given that Patel is the daughter of immigrant parents who migrated to the UK from Uganda in the 1960s.
We recall with horror the 2018 Windrush scandal, in which hundreds of British citizens of Caribbean descent were threatened with deportation, held in detention centres and actually sent to Barbados, Jamaica and other islands, under a so-called ‘hostile environment’ policy, developed by the home secretary who would become prime minister, Theresa May.
A combination of sterling journalism, the campaigning efforts of the UK-Caribbean community, and yeoman diplomatic action spearheaded by then Barbados High Commissioner to the UK Reverend Guy Hewitt, led to the cessation of this deeply embarrassing, inhumane and scandal and the resignation of Home Secretary Amber Rudd, largely regarded as the paschal lamb in a situation created by her predecessor.
In the context of the unfolding situation in Britain, we urge our representative to the Court of St James to indicate to the Boris Johnson administration that racist rhetoric is abhorrent, repugnant and intolerable. What has been given life on the pages of The Spectator and The Telegraph must die at No 10 Downing Street.
Our high commissioner must continue to demand that the UK government treat its citizens of West Indian origin with the same respect and fairness due to any of Her Majesty’s white subjects and certainly to people who have made a substantial contribution to the postwar rebirth of modern Britain and the development of its former Empire, now the Commonwealth.