Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg was among those congratulating her fellow Conservative leader Boris Johnson as he became British premier on Wednesday. She seems to like him, and doesn’t think he resembles the equally controversial US leader, Donald Trump.
“I’ve met him during NATO summits and a few times when he was foreign minister,” Solberg told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). “I’ve also met him in connection with the (British) Conservatives’ national meetings and when he was mayor of London. I think he’s a clever speaker and good at that.”
Solberg will now be meeting Johnson in their official capacities as prime ministers. “First and foremost I want to congratulate him on being elected (as new leader of the British Conservatives and hence the new prime minister),” Solberg told DN. “Being prime minister in Britain is an important role, also for Norway. We have a strong and good economic cooperation and they (the British) are our most important trading partner.”
Johnson is highly controversial both inside and outside the UK, for gross exaggerations, for comments he’s made about women, Africans and other national leaders, and for infuriating EU leaders. During the Brexit campaign, Johnson claimed Great Britain was sending GBP 350 million a week to the EU, which wasn’t true. EU leaders aren’t likely inclined to yield to Johnson on new Brexit negotiations.
Solberg seemed to excuse Johnson’s untruths, telling DN that “many things have been said” during EU campaigns that aren’t “entirely” correct. “He’s a witty and funny politician,” Solberg said. “Time will tell how he’ll be as prime minister.”
Many have compared Johnson to Trump, even calling him “Trump’s poodle” when he recently failed to support Britain’s own ambassador to the US after the veteran diplomat’s confidential reports home were leaked and shown to criticize the Trump Administration.
Asked whether Solberg thinks Johnson resembles Trump, she responded: “That’s not the impression I have of him. When it comes to Brexit, we disagree (Norway hopes for an orderly Brexit), but the same time, I notice that there are several issues he’s concerned about, for example the environment, and then he has an entirely different opinion (than Trump).”
Solberg and her Conservative Party have long wished Norway was a member of the EU itself, and she supported Johnson’s predecessor as prime minister, Theresa May. May, who visited Norway in the height of the Brexit conflict last year, worked hard to secure agreements with the EU regarding Britain’s withdrawal, only to fail to win support for them both in Parliament and within her own party.
Now Johnson claims Britain will leave the EU by October 31, regardless of whether a withdrawal agreement is in place. That’s a nightmare scenario for Norway, which isn’t in the EU either but has a firm if expensive trade agreement with the EU and will need to negotiate an additional trade agreement with the UK.
Even though Solberg and Johnson are both Conservatives, she told DN she “politically disagrees with him when it comes to Brexit and his standpoints. Now we’ll have to wait and see whether he manages to find a better solution thatn Theresa May.”
As always, the Norwegian government is most concerned with looking after Norway’s own best interests: “What’s most important for us is to maintain a good cooperation and find out how to handle Brexit. We of course hope that it won’t be ‘hard Brexit’ (without an economic agreement in place), but we’re prepared for either.”
Solberg admitted she was concerned about Johnson’s anti-EU policy and his position on Brexit. “We believe that our relations to Great Britain and the EU are best served with an orderly Brexit. That would provide some predictability for everyone, and I think it can be very unfortunate with a hard Brexit. But the British politicians have to deal with that, while we look after Norwegian interests.”