Leon Gast’s 1996 When We Were Kings is one of the great sports films, indeed it may be one of the greatest of all films. It tells of the 1974 Rumble in the Jungle between the formidable George Foreman and Muhammad Ali. The received wisdom was that Foreman would be too powerful for an aging Ali trying to regain a title he had lost when he was jailed for refusing to fight in Vietnam. Ali unveiled his famous rope-a-dope ploy and encouraged Foreman to attack relentlessly — “That all you got George?” Foreman took the bait and when he was exhausted Ali knocked him out in the eighth round. Brains, tactics, courage, and focused patience won the day. Ali’s masterclass may help those trying to understand Britain’s prime minister Boris Johnson’s sabre rattling, unchecked by his Brexit echo-chamber cabinet.
His brother in narcissism, President Trump, predictably, used Johnson’s appointment to tell his audience that Johnson was the “British Trump” and that “they like me over there”. However, speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi took an adult line and warned that Congress would not endorse a trade deal between Britain and America if the Belfast Agreement was jeopardised. Ms Pelosi warned that Northern Ireland was foremost in the mind of Congress as a no-deal Brexit seems ever more likely. This emasculates another Brexiteer promise — that Britain would easily strike a deal with the US after it quits the EU.
France echoed the Pelosi warning. Amélie de Montchalin, minister for European affairs, said there was “solidarity” with Ireland and reiterated that the withdrawal agreement would not be renegotiated. These warnings may not have sunk home but hopefully European commission president Jean-Claude Juncker’s rebuff of Johnson’s new deal demands might, though that would be an unexpected if belated advance. The commission, once again, repeated that the withdrawal agreement is the only agreement possible.
Another day, another Brexit fantasy discounted.
That Johnson, despite myriad clarifications imagines he might, through bluster and Britain’s-Got-Talent Churchill impressions find some wriggle room may play well with the 92,000 Tories who elected him to lead 66m Britons but, like Ali goading Foreman, his drum beating is just a tactic along the road to achieving the impossible.
One of the few predictions around Johnson that has won acceptance is that he will have to fight an election in the medium term. How wonderful it would be then for Johnson to be able to paint the EU as an unrelenting monster determined to make plucky Blighty a vassal state. What a gift that would be to Johnson and his cabal of reactionaries. That must not happen. Unlike Johnson, EU negotiators have dealt with this Gilbert-and-Sullivan farce for three years and, though their patience has been stretched, they might well ask: “That all you got Boris?” Indeed, he may have even less, as sane, moderate British politicians of all hues realise the dangers of a no-deal divorce and may — should — unite to prevent one. Despite appearances they could corner Boris more effectively than Ali ensnared Foreman.