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‘One lie too many’ – how Europe’s press responded to the fall of Boris Johnson

A politician who has long had a tense relationship with Europe - despite a French dad and a childhood in Belgium - UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's resignation speech created a raft of headlines in European press, few of them positive.

'One lie too many' - how Europe's press responded to the fall of Boris Johnson
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson makes his speech in Downing Street on Thursday. Photo by Niklas HALLE'N / AFP

On Thursday Boris Johnson announced that he would step down after dozens of his ministers quit their jobs in protest at his leadership. News of his departure naturally dominated the front pages in the UK, but made quite a few headlines in Europe too.

Here’s a selection of the reaction in the countries covered by The Local.

France

Fluent French-speaker Johnson has long had a penchant for French-bashing – memorably referring to the French as ‘turds’ during the Brexit negotiations – and had a tricky relationship with arch Europhile Emmanuel Macron.

The leftwing French daily Libération splashed on Johnson’s departure under the headline Big Beigne, a slightly torturous Big Ben pun, as in French a beigne means a hit or a blow. The paper described Johnson’s term as “marked by scandals and lies, further weakening a country already divided by Brexit”.

The same newspaper simply wished the UK ‘good luck’ at the beginning of Johnson’s premiership.

The French word you would definitely need to follow the media coverage was mensonges (lies), the rightwing La Croix newspaper publishing a leader column written by editor Jérôme Chapuis headlined Le prix du mensonge (the price of lies).

The ‘paper of record’ Le Monde played it straight, with a headline: Boris Johnson – de la victoire éclatante à la chute chaotique, trois ans de turbulences (from brilliant victory to chaotic fall, three years of turbulence).

Meanwhile French journalist and best-selling author Dov Alfon was extremely tickled at the actions of the Madame Taussaud museum in Blackpool, which posed its Boris Johnson waxwork outside the local Job Centre.

Germany

German tabloid Bild chronicled Johnson’s missteps, saying “one lie too many” had brought down the Prime Minister. 

Spiegel led with the same header, adding “The clown’s leaving, the chaos remains.” In their tweet they said their cover story was on “Johnson’s toxic legacy”.

Germany’s FAZ commented on Johnson’s “bitter” departure. The newspaper wrote: “When Boris Johnson stepped outside… to announce his resignation, some expected a word of personal reflection, perhaps an admission that could explain why he was politically finished only two and a half years after a brilliant electoral success.

“But it was the others who got their talking to. ‘When the herd moves, it moves,’ he said bitterly, as if everyone but him was wrong – his party colleagues, the journalists, even his cabinet colleagues.”

Some German publications had a few harsh words to say about Brexit.

“Many Britons will now breathe a sigh of relief,” said Handelsblatt. “Gone are the days when one had to doubt whether one’s own prime minister was telling the truth to the people or, once again, was deceiving them. This is what Johnson did with Brexit, which he first pushed through with false figures and then sold as a big win for his country. In fact, the UK is worse off economically today than it would be in the EU.”

Spain

Boris Johnson’s resignation has made the front pages of all of Spain’s main newspapers, with little sympathy across the political spectrum for a leader and a country that Spaniards have looked at with bemusement since the Brexit vote.

Left-leaning news website El Diario, a partner of The Guardian, went with “Rise and fall of Boris Johnson: The Prime Minister who tripped over his own lies”.

In an op-ed piece in Spanish conservative daily ABC, journalist Jesús Lillo chose the headline “The man who manipulated himself”, describing Johnson as both the problem and the solution for a disorientated United Kingdom, a “winning combination in the rabble-rousing lottery”.

Spain’s leading national newspaper El País described the soon-to-be former British PM as “the Brexit magician”, stressing just how many lies he’s pulled out of his hat to reach power. 

Whilst Spain’s second most read newspaper El Mundo went with “Goodbye to the king of buffoons” in its daily podcast. 

Spain’s top newspapers have given a lot of front page coverage to Johnson’s disheveled hair, as well as running with words such as “the last pirouette” and “from Brexit to Borexit”.

Switzerland

Switzerland’s German-language Neue Zürcher Zeitung said Johnson was “a political pop star and an election winner” but “had fallen victim to his own staging”. “Boris Johnson has always been all about him rather than policy content… in the looming economic crisis, citizens want a reliable head of government who will take care of their problems.”

On Friday morning, the NZZ sized up Johnson’s potential replacements, saying it would be a battle between “a Brexit convert, an ambitious manager or a quiet shepherd”. 

Swiss tabloid Blick took a different approach, saying that despite Brexit and the constant controversy surrounding Johnson “Europe will still miss the anti-European”, largely for his role as an advocate of Ukraine. 

Blick did however have some harsh words for the soon-to-be-former PM. 

“He was never a role model, seldom a gentleman, all too often just a liar. With his Brexit he drove a wedge between the kingdom and the continent – and he frightened the neighbours so much that Scotland will soon vote on its independence for the second time.” 

Austria

“The era of narcissistic politicians is over”. This is what the Austrian newspaper Die Presse wrote in its editorial after news that Boris Johnson would resign as UK’s prime minister.

The daily continues: “for the British conservatives, the departure of Prime Minister Boris Johnson is an opportunity to return to basic virtues such as honesty and seriousness”.

Newspapers in Austria highlighted the many controversies of Johnson’s time as leader of the United Kingdom, and broadcaster ORF reported that there were “calls for his quick replacement”.

The national broadcaster also mentioned Johnson’s farewell speech: “he did not apologise for the many scandals that eventually forced him to withdraw”.

Kurier ran a story based on British media reports that Johnson had “desperately” wanted to remain in the position because of his upcoming wedding party planned in Chequers, the official country estate of the British Prime Minister.

Downing Street on Friday announced that the private wedding party would take place at another location.

The daily newspaper published a cartoon mocking Johnson’s farewell speech and apparent blindness to his own standing in UK politics:

Italy

In Italy the daily newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano focused on Johnson’s less-than-graceful resignation speech, saying: BoJo si dimette con l’ultimo insulto: “Mi manda via il gregge” (BoJo resigns with the last insult: ‘The herd is pushing me out’).

While Corriere took a longer view with ‘Rise and fall of Boris Johnson: the boy who wanted to become “king of the world” and took London out of Europe’.

Denmark

Although Denmark’s mainstream politics has a settled pro-EU stance, the country has not seen its relations with the UK strained by Brexit to the extent seen in bigger EU powers like France and Germany.

Left-leaning daily newspaper Politiken went with the simple “Exit” following Johnson’s chaotic announcement on Thursday.

The Conservative Party has now had five leaders in 20 years, Politiken observes, adding that the country is “waiting with anticipation to see who comes next”.

The right-leaning Jyllands-Posten wrote that Johnson will be remembered for a “historic divorce” and little else, in reference to Brexit, though foreign security correspondent Jørn Mikkelsen praised the outgoing PM’s support for Ukraine, suggesting it may have been his “finest hour” (using the English phrase first popularised by Churchill).

In its analysis, broadcaster DR wrote that “Boris Johnson will be among the prime ministers to have held the position for the shortest time in British history, but the British will feel the effects of his Brexit for generations.”

Sweden

In Sweden, newspaper Svenska Dagbladet led with “Harassment scandal was the end for Johnson” in reference to the controversy surrounding Johnson’s nomination of disgraced MP Chris Pincher as deputy chief whip and subsequent denial that he knew of allegations of sexual harassment against Pincher .

“Anyone who expects self-reflection from Boris Johnson is going to be waiting in vain,” wrote columnist and author with Dagens Nyheter, Gunnar Pettersson.

“Boris Johnson’s tragicomedy is finally over”, the headline of the column states.

Journalist Arvid Åhlund meanwhile argued that “Boris Johnson’s resignation is, more than anything else, a sign that British democracy is working as it should”.

Norway

“Boris Johnson steps down: Highlights own achievements” was Norwegian tabloid newspaper Dagbladet’s take on Boris Johnson’s resignation speech. 

A commentator for Norway’s largest regional paper, Bergens Tidende, was far less kind writing “A walking scandal steps down”. 

Meanwhile, another regional, Stavanger Aftenblad, wrote that the PM would be remembered for “Brexit, lies and partying”. 

Other outlets focused their analysis in the aftermath of the resignation on the various scandals surrounding the PM throughout his time at Downing Street. Public broadcaster NRK opted for: “The scandals that plagued Boris Johnson”.

Norway’s most-read online newspaper Verderns Gang summed up his time as prime minister as an “avalanche of scandals”, adding, “Johnson has been a controversial figure during his entire public life. From juicy public statements to political manoeuvres: He has rarely been able to restrain himself from creating attention around his own persona.”

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SWEDEN ELECTS

Sweden Elects: The latest political news as the election campaign kicks off

What's Sweden talking about this week? In The Local's Sweden Elects newsletter, editor Emma Löfgren rounds up some of the main talking points ahead of the Swedish election.

Sweden Elects: The latest political news as the election campaign kicks off

In an interview that could have jeopardised his job a decade ago, Social Democrat Immigration Minister Anders Ygeman’s suggestion in DN that there should be a 50 percent cap on non-Nordic immigrants in troubled areas of Swedish cities showed how the debate has shifted in recent years.

That said, his comments did not go without criticism. The Left Party slammed them as “racist”, the Greens and the Centre Party also criticised them, and so did the Moderates and some within the Social Democrats.

Ygeman himself said that he had been misunderstood, that he had never meant it as an actual proposal, and that factors such as crime and unemployment were far more important in terms of integration.

“But of course segregation is not just class-based, it also has an ethnic dimension. If you have areas where almost everyone is from other countries, it’s harder to learn Swedish, and if it’s harder to learn Swedish, it’s harder to get a job,” he told public broadcaster SVT.

What do you think? Email me if you want to share your thoughts.

Campaign posters and a new poll

The centre-left Social Democrats and the Moderates, the largest right-wing opposition party, both unveiled their campaign posters last week, which I guess means that the summer holiday lull is officially over and the election campaign is now definitely under way. Just over a month to go.

It’s interesting that the Social Democrats are clearly trying to turn this into a “presidential” style campaign, taking advantage of Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson’s overwhelming popularity compared to the Moderates’ Ulf Kristersson, whose reception among voters is lukewarm.

A poll by the DN newspaper and Ipsos a month ago suggested that 37 percent of voters want to see Andersson as prime minister, compared to 22 percent who preferred Kristersson (12 percent preferred the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats’ leader Jimmie Åkesson, and the other party leaders did not get more than four percent each).

Andersson is in the unique position where voters like her way more than they like her party – a new opinion poll by Demoskop suggests that 28.7 percent would vote for the Social Democrats if the election was held today (the Moderates would get 20.3 percent). The same poll has all the right-wing parties with a slight majority compared to the left-wing parties.

Anyway, the Social Democrats’ campaign posters cover pensions, schools (specifically, limiting profit-making free schools), crime and law and order. Climate change is conspicuously absent, but a party spokesperson told reporters it will be more prominent in its social media campaigns.

When Kristersson, on the other hand, spoke at his party’s event to kick off their election campaign, he emphasised how he’s got a viable coalition on his side – a jibe at the Social Democrats, who will struggle to get their partners (specifically the Centre and Left parties) to collaborate.

He also reiterated his praise for the Sweden Democrats, and The Local asked several experts if the Moderates are the same party that fought the 2018 election, when Kristersson promised Holocaust survivor Hédi Fried he would not cooperate with the Sweden Democrats after the election.

Election pledges

The Local’s Becky Waterton has looked at the election pledges of Sweden’s four main parties, the Social Democrats, Moderates, Sweden Democrats and Centre Party. Click here to read her guide, it’s a really useful roundup.

And what about Covid? Is Sweden’s handling of the pandemic not going to be a talking point in this election? No, at least not if the parties have their way. The Social Democrats run the government, but most of the regions (who are in charge of healthcare) are run by right-wing coalitions. So from a strictly realpolitik perspective, no party is able to attack another without putting themselves at risk of becoming a target. Best forget about it.

In other political news…

… a Sweden Democrat member of parliament has been accused of sending unsolicited dick pics to women, the Moderates want to legalise altruistic surrogacy in Sweden, the Christian Democrats want a national scheme to improve maternity care, the Liberals want to make it harder for people with a criminal record to become Swedish citizens, and Centre Party leader Annie Lööf hit the campaign trail just before the weekend by pledging to reject any proposal for raised taxes after the election.

Sweden Elects is a weekly column by Editor Emma Löfgren looking at the big talking points and issues in the Swedish election race. Members of The Local Sweden can sign up to receive the column plus several extra features as a newsletter in their email inbox each week. Just click on this “newsletters” option or visit the menu bar.

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