Boris Johnson’s illness could not have come at a worse time


The news of Johnson’s rush to hospital has floored world leaders with Prime Minister Scott Morrison saying: “Boris, we are with you, mate. We hope you get well soon.”

A little over three months earlier, when Johnson stormed to a crushing election victory, Morrison took to Twitter to tell the British leader to say “g’day to the quiet Britons”.

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It was a not-so-quiet acknowledgement that Morrison viewed the election through a similar prism to his own surprise victory seven months earlier.

For all the talk that Johnson is a populist in the mould of Donald Trump, the British leader probably sees more of himself in Morrison, and vice versa.

Both prime ministers seized the moment to stare down left-wing populist agendas involving a massive expansion of government, relying on the good judgment of the “quiet” voters to endorse their cautiously conservative platforms.

And while Johnson and Morrison railed against big government initiatives at the ballot box, they have both pivoted to announce massive wage subsidy and stimulus packages to save their economies from the threat posed by the global pandemic.

The pair have been in regular contact, exchanging text messages and a recent phone conversation.

The high-level contact will continue. British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is deputising for Johnson, has a good relationship with Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, and the two have been in frequent contact.

Raab was in Australia at the start of February defending Britain’s decision to allow Chinese company Huawei into the country’s 5G network, which was made against the advice of American and Australian intelligence agencies.

In recent years, there has been some frustration within the Australian and US intelligence community that Britain has sometimes failed to see the growing influence of China, although Australia has always understood why many in the UK regard Russia as the bigger existential threat because of its geography and Moscow’s shameless foreign interference activities.

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The point of banning Huawei is not just about an immediate threat of Chinese government surveillance; it is also to stop Chinese companies from gaining such a monopoly within telecommunications systems around the world that governments feel they have no choice but to allow them in.

The Tories are beginning to find their hawkish sides on China.

Minister Michael Gove, who challenged Johnson for the leadership in 2016, recently accused Beijing of not being clear about “the nature, scale and infectiousness” of the disease in its early days. He spoke to the depth of anger within Britain about the extent to which its society has been ravaged by COVID-19, and Beijing’s initial delays in notifying the world of the severity of the outbreak.

But if any one can now pivot on the question of the existential threat posed by the rise of China, it is the man lying in a London hospital bed.

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