High anxiety for U.S. and UK as Boris Johnson in ICU

Special to WorldTribune , April 9, 2020

Commentary by Lee Cohen

When Boris Johnson was in intensive care, Americans from President Donald Trump on down wished him a full and rapid recovery, not only because the Prime Minister, who was born in NYC, is a stalwart friend of the U.S., but because the fate of the head of government of our closest ally and global partner is massively significant to the United States. Johnson’s illness has made a relentlessly difficult time even more anxious.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. / Wikimedia Commons

So far, we know that after testing positive for COVID-19 and self-isolating at his home that Johnson was admitted to London’s St. Thomas hospital on Sunday in intensive care.

Johnson has been moved out of the intensive care unit of a London hospital, a spokesman for the prime minister said Thursday. “The Prime Minister has been moved this evening from intensive care back to the ward, where he will receive close monitoring during the early phase of his recovery,” the spokesman said. “He is in extremely good spirits.”

While there is an office called “Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) of the UK”, it is not analogous to our Vice President role. Specifically, the DPM has no particular constitutional powers or even legal recognition and does not automatically assume the responsibilities of the PM in case of illness or death. The reason for this is that it the British Monarch who technically chooses the PM and therefore, there can be no automatic succession of the type that bypasses the sovereign. Sometimes there is no designated official DPM but the responsibilities are often carried out instead by another senior cabinet official, the first secretary of state.

Neither Theresa May nor Boris Johnson chose to appoint a DPM. Former Brexit Secretary, Foreign Minister, Dominic Raab is the current first secretary of state. With his illness, Johnson has asked Raab as of April 6 to deputize for him. But while promotions are usually welcome, with the pandemic, Raab’s temporary tenure comes at an particularly challenging moment.

To add fuel to the fire, as virologists predict the apex of the virus approaching, citizens are getting restless at home and economies are suffering. Some EU nations, for example, Austria, are already contemplating exiting lockdown. Managing return from semi-quarantine is critical to avoiding a resurgence of the virus when people return to circulation. For all of these reasons, it is vitally important that PM Johnson return to health as soon as possible.

For the most part, relations between Johnson and Donald Trump have been extremely warm. During Trump’s State Visit to the UK last June, before the election which put Johnson in No. 10 Downing Street, President Trump told the Sun Newspaper: “I think he is a very good guy, a very talented person. … I think Boris would do a very good job. I think he would be excellent.”

Johnson repaid the compliment during his campaign, saying he wanted to mimic some of the Trump administrations’s “clever” tax cuts. “Look at what Trump is doing,” he shared with members of his fellow Tory Party during a conference call. “They’ve got growth running at 3.6 percent.”

One notable sticking point has arisen in the relationship, however with respect to Johnson’s resolve to go forward to deploy significant equipment form Chinese telecom behemoth, Huawei. The Trump administration has lobbied hard to convince Johnson’s government to abandon Huawei due to national security and espionage risks and has hinted that Huawei could hinder what Trump has forecast to be a “phenomenal” trade deal.

Our strongest global alliance, the U.S.-UK relationship is bound up by enormous bi-lateral trade and critical security and intelligence sharing. But so much depends upon Johnson’s recovery. So much, in fact, that during his Monday coronavirus press conference, President Trump said …” that he had asked therapeutics manufacturers that the U.S. government is dealing with to “contact London immediately”. He added: “We’ve contacted all of Boris’s doctors and we’ll see what takes place — they are ready to go.”

On a hopeful note earlier, First Secretary Raab indicated that Boris Johnson should ‘be back from intensive care soon.’ Paying tribute to the PM, Raab said today: “I’m confident he will pull through because if there is one thing that I know about this prime minister, he is a fighter and he will be back leading us through this crisis in short order.”

Lee Cohen is a fellow of the Danube Institute. He was an adviser on Europe to the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee and founded the Congressional United Kingdom Caucus.

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