President Who? Boris Johnson Plays It Safe and Doesn’t Mention Trump

Robert Hutton

(Bloomberg) -- Has Boris Johnson forgotten the U.S. president’s name? Perhaps a mental blank explained why he completed a 21-minute press conference at the end of the NATO summit without once mentioning Donald Trump.

The more likely reason is that with voting a week away, Johnson wanted to avoid as much as possible being linked to the president. On top of that, he’d managed to get to the end of the two-day meeting of NATO leaders without Trump disrupting the election campaign. There was no point in provoking anything now.

Questioner after questioner at Johnson’s closing press conference asked him about the president. Johnson dodged and swerved. He name-checked Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but managed to avoid referring to Trump as an individual, even obliquely.

Did the prime minister think Trump was good for the West? Johnson said he thought the U.S. had been the guarantor of security for 70 years. But what did he think about Trump? He thought “the current U.S. administration” had worked well with the U.K. That was as close as he would get to a reference to the president.

What did Johnson think about being caught on camera sharing a joke with Canada’s Justin Trudeau at Trump’s expense? “That’s complete nonsense. I don’t know where that came from.” Asked again about the video, the prime minister insisted: “I really don’t know what is being referred to.”

Had he and Trump discussed plans to charge multinational corporations, including Facebook and Google, a new digital tax during their conversation on Tuesday evening? “That’s been raised with our friends in the U.S.”

What did he think of Trump’s claim that he didn’t know Prince Andrew, given that the pair had been pictured together? That question was totally extraneous to the NATO summit.

Johnson’s main rival in the U.K. election, Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, has built his campaign on arguing that the prime minister must be ousted because he’s planning to sell-out Britain’s National Health Service to U.S. companies in a trade deal with Trump after Brexit. Johnson denies this, but some Conservative officials fear it is an argument that could work for Corbyn.

Johnson was asked if he had told Trump that the NHS wouldn’t be part of trade talks. “I might wind up this press conference now,” he replied. “I think we’re starting to scrape the barrel.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Robert Hutton in London at rhutton1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tim Ross at tross54@bloomberg.net, Thomas Penny

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