The then London mayor, Boris Johnson (centre), biking with the then Kuala Lumpur mayor, Tan Sri Ahmad Phesal Talib (right), from the Abdullah Hukum LRT station to ECO City, in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, in December 2014. FILE PIC

KUALA LUMPUR: The rise of Conservative leader Boris Johnson
as United Kingdom’s prime minister has raised concerns among liberals and democrats around the globe, particularly on his efficacy to lead the top office, although calls for calm have also been voiced.

Johnson has always struck observers as a controversial luminary. His reported brusque demeanour and approach are often weighed in the balance with his apparent altruistic charm of a samaritan. The story of his attempts to calm a drunken passenger on a Malaysia Airlines flight to London from Kuala Lumpur in 2014 is an example worth citing.

At the same time, while Johnson has been labelled the “other” United States President Donald Trump across the Atlantic, his policies, centring on Brexit, might be an advantageous gambit for Asean countries. Malaysia can be a foremost example in its attempts to forge improved ties with Johnson on various issues that had earlier soured economic ties with the European Union (EU).

International relations expert Professor Dr Mohd Azizuddin Mohd Sani said while historically, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was known to be wary of the UK’s economic policies, Johnson’s road to Downing Street could still prove to be an opportunity to revive a progressive, mutually beneficial relationship for both countries.

“Malaysia would do well to strike while the iron is hot and establish good relations with Johnson. The prime minister (Dr Mahathir) should be the first man to call and congratulate him or visit London.

“This is important to get him in Malaysia’s corner on palm oil, as the UK has not come up with an official stand on importing the commodity. We need to engage him fast and get him on our side.

“Their meeting must also be followed by Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok’s visit to lobby for our cause,” he said, adding that the odds were stacked against the commodity with the European Union’s upcoming ban.

Azizuddin said Johnson had been known to be amiable towards Malaysia despite media reports of him being xenophobic on the heels of leading the Brexit campaign in 2016.

“He appears to be less elitist than his predecessor (Theresa) May, despite being often portrayed as a political clown of sorts. He also met Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim when he (Anwar) travelled to London after his release.”

Earlier, the Council of Palm Oil Producing Countries said Indonesia and Malaysia would jointly seek justice at the World Trade Organisation as the EU presses on to ban palm oil.

On June 10, the EU Parliament passed the Delegated Act to restrict and ban palm oil biofuel by 2030.

On the same spectrum, if Brexit is realised, the UK would all the more need its Commonwealth allies to help restore any expected shortcoming once it is no longer part of the EU.

Singapore Institute of International Affairs senior fellow Dr Ei Sun Oh said if Johnson managed to deliver Brexit in October, then the UK’s relations with most Commonwealth countries would improve as the UK would have to train its eyes back on nurturing closer trading ties with old allies.

“To put it bluntly, after Brexit, the UK has more need of us than we of it,” said Ei.

An opinion piece published by The Guardian stated that Johnson and Trump shared an “unorthodox approach to politics as well as a ‘tell it like it is’ communication style — media euphemisms for reckless opportunism and a combination of homophobia, racism and sexism”.

On racial slurs that Johnson had allegedly uttered, Ei said the international community could only react, but he added that it was unnecessary to focus most resources on winning investments from the UK.

“There is nothing we can do (about the alleged racial slurs), as the ball is not in our court, so to say. And trading ties are not picking up as much as it should over the years.

“(The UK is not) a markedly important superpower like the United States or China. So (there is) no need to spend too much time wooing it anyhow.”

Johnson won the race to become Britain’s next prime minister on Tuesday after the former London mayor defeated his rival, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, in a vote by members of the governing Conservative Party.