Brexit Brussels or Washington? Brexit means we must decide whose side we’re on

The Nato summit has underlined a problem both Johnson and Corbyn deny – the cost in power and influence of leaving the EU


It is a common problem, especially at this time of year. You agree to host a party, but when it comes around the timing feels awkward. Work is hectic, some of the guests are barely on speaking terms, someone might make an unpleasant scene. That someone might be you.

A less frivolous politician than Boris Johnson could turn this week’s Nato summit to his advantage. The international stage allows a hosting prime minister to parade himself as a serious statesman, inviting favourable comparison with a Labour rival whose method for communicating on defence matters has traditionally been a loudhailer at an anti-war rally.

But gravitas is outside Johnson’s comfortable range as a political performer, no matter how hard he strains for the note. This week’s summit contains the additional hazard of Donald Trump chiming in unhelpfully. The prime minister’s campaign could easily be undermined by a tone-deaf endorsement. Downing Street’s concern on that score has been communicated to Trump, who managed a long press conference on Tuesday without sabotage or scandal. There is still time for both.

Affinity with the US president causes difficulty for Johnson inside and outside the summit. To undecided voters it underlines the two men’s shared habits of dishonesty and swaggering male chauvinism. For European leaders, the concern is ideological resemblance between Trumpism and Brexit. Both projects look like wrecking-balls swinging into the edifice of rules and institutions that were assembled after the second world war to insure against future conflict. Brexit plots Britain on an axis of nationalistic mischief that fractures solidarity among liberal democratic nations that once had common cause as “the west”.

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