‘Johnson’s sinking ship of fools’: European media react to PM’s latest travails

It has been with some fascination and no little scorn that media outlets in continental Europe have received news of Boris Johnson’s latest travails.

That the British prime minister appears to have been tripped up by his own untruths does not appear to have surprised many commentators or headline writers.

The speed of the unravelling of the UK government, or “Boris Johnson’s sinking ship of fools”, as the conservative German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung describes the cabinet, has, however, raised eyebrows after such a long period of “getting away with it”, as one Dutch newspaper put it.

In Germany, Der Spiegel writes that Johnson “obviously failed to see the calamity that had been building for the past few days. But why would he have done? Compared to the populistic and perfidious rack and ruin of the past three Johnson years, the latest scandal … was almost pardonable. Nothing more than a pale comet’s tail in the cosmos of lies of Boris Johnson”.

Of the case of Christopher Pincher, the deputy chief whip who was appointed by Johnson despite the prime minister having known of past complaints about his alleged sexual behaviour, Der Spiegel writes: “The Pincher case, as the two resignation letters reveal, just happened to be the last drop in a bucket full to the brim of stinking pigswill at the door of the office of the British premier.”

The liberal leaning Süddeutsche Zeitung felt there was enough in the Johnson back catalogue to list a mouthwatering “selection” of 13 misdemeanours, covering everything from the mystery of who had paid for the prime minister’s Caribbean holiday and a famously cringeworthy speech about Peppa Pig to the mishandling of the pandemic, the exposure of Partygate and the scandal over the provenance of payments for gold-leafed wallpaper destined for the Downing Street flat.

The paper writes: “That he is not a man of integrity one might have reckoned with. When Johnson became the British prime minister in 2019 the former foreign minister and mayor of London had a longstanding reputation for buoyantly stepping from one blunder to another. And once arrived in the highest echelons of the government, he just kept going in the same vein.

“During the pandemic he even said that chaos was not so bad, as chaos meant that everyone had to look at him in order to see who the boss was. Which is how he managed to secure this type of attention on a consistent basis.”

In France, an early morning news bulletin on the biggest public radio station, France Inter, headlined “Storm in Shakespeare-land”, described Johnson’s premiership as being in chaos after “countless scandals based on alcohol, wandering hands and lies”.

The daily Libération called the resignations “a terrible blow” for Johnson”. Le Monde remarked that “up until now Johnson had seemed able to withstand every scandal”, but asked “will this be the final blow?”

An answer to the question of whether this really could the end for Johnson is offered in the Netherlands by the liberal newspaper Trouw, which suggested that the latest cabinet resignations “could well spell the death blow for Boris Johnson’s premiership”.

In Belgium, Ivan Ollevier, a correspondent for the Flemish public broadcaster VRT NWS offered a similar analysis while admitting that Johnson “always seems to get away with it”. “I don’t like to make predictions, but we are witnessing a government that is collapsing in slow motion,” he opined.

The Flemish newspaper De Standaard felt the same. “Much has already been written, but the end of Prime Minister Johnson now seems very close”, an opinion piece mused.

In Spain, La Vanguardia’s Rafa Ramos recognised that the prime minister would fight to the last to keep his position – but concluded that he was now surely “teetering on the brink”. “There are three weeks to go until the summer recess and Johnson will nail himself to his desk chair if need be,” the journalist writes. “But his position is more precarious than ever. As Hemingway said, one goes bust gradually, and then suddenly.”

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