LONDON — They might not be wearing MAGA hats, but some of Britain’s most prominent Conservatives are flirting with Donald Trump again.
A steady stream of Tory politicians — and even former prime ministers — have recently been heaping cautious praise on, or even endorsing, the controversial former U.S. president as his bid to re-enter the White House in November’s election gathers steam.
The U.K. government itself, led by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, will stay steadfastly neutral as it tries to avoid annoying either the incumbent Joe Biden or his likely contender Trump.
But in British conservative circles, the prospect of Trump 2.0 come November is now a live topic.
A column this week by Paul Goodman, the well-connected editor of Tory grassroots bible ConservativeHome, set Westminster tongues wagging as he tried to sum up the pros and cons of a second Trump term, asking: “Might there be more to the coming contest than a choice between a bullshitter and a corpse?”
While giving Trump both barrels as an “egomaniacal narcissist, conspiracy theorist, ethically challenged businessman, misogynist, phenomenal blowhard and former Democrat,” Goodman set out a center-right argument for a “pro-Britain” Trump that may turn Tory heads.
Drawing sharp contrasts with Biden, who many Tories suspect is less keen on the U.K. when it comes to post-Brexit fights over Northern Ireland, Goodman argued: “The more telling case for Trump in that in a perilous world, in which China, Russia and Iran seem to be drawing closer together, he would project strength, and be prepared to wield it if necessary.”
It’s a similar line to the one pushed by ex-Prime Minister Boris Johnson — who retains a mass following among Tory supporters despite being turfed out of office by his MPs in 2022. Johnson was once praised by the U.S. Republican as “Britain Trump.”
The ex-PM argued Friday that a “Trump presidency can be a big win for the world” despite having the “global wokerati … trembling so violently that you could hear the ice tinkling in their negronis.” And Johnson, who has lobbied hard to try and convince U.S. Republicans not to ditch support for Ukraine, tried a little flattery too in his Daily Mail piece, praising Trump as a man who had “already signally helped” to keep Ukraine free while in office.
Liz Truss, who succeeded Johnson as prime minister for a brief spell in 2022, also appears to be a fan, after she made clear in November that she hoped for a Republican win in 2024 no matter the candidate. The feeling is mutual.
Others aren’t bothering with the caveats. Former cabinet minister — and darling of the Conservative right — Jacob Rees-Mogg told the BBC in recent days he “would rather have Donald Trump than President Biden.”
“Bring him back!” Jake Berry, a prominent Tory MP and former minister, declared at the mere sight of a picture of the ex-president during the televised intermission of an ITV show.
One Trump supporter in the Conservative Party ranks, granted anonymity to speak frankly about internal views of the ex-president, said they knew of plenty of other Tory admirers of Trump. But, they said, some MPs are still afraid to be vocal for fear of putting a target on their backs.
Indeed, not everyone in the party, which is facing its own deep identity crisis as it tries to stave off a hefty defeat at the hands of the Labour Party in an election this year, is convinced hugging Trump close will pay dividends for Britain.
“I think it’s pretty extraordinary for any mainstream British politician to support Trump,” the former Conservative cabinet minister David Gauke told POLITICO. “He has no respect for the rule of law and no respect for democratic institutions.”
“If that is what the politicians on the Conservative right think is someone worth supporting then I think that is terribly revealing,” he added.
Others were more blunt still in their disbelief.
Alicia Kearns, chair of the foreign affairs committee and a key centrist figure in the party, wrote on X: “It’s 2024 and people are seriously calling for someone to be President of the USA who falsely claims the last election was stolen from them, will face charges for inciting insurrection, was found liable of sexually abusing a woman, obstructed investigations, abused his power to pardon his friends, and has indictments which amount to a total of 91 felony charges? Completely mind-blowing.”
Some see a calculated strategy among Trump-backing Tories to try and avoid being outgunned by Nigel Farage, whose Reform Party is trying to soak up disillusioned Tory voters.
Farage has made much of his ties with and fondness for Trump, who even gave the “handsome” right-winger a shoutout in a stump speech last week.
“I’m not sure the evidence is there to say that Trump is any more favorable to the United Kingdom,” the former Conservative Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt said. “But he would be if Nigel Farage was the prime minister. I suspect that would improve Trump’s view of Britain,” Burt added.
“There are lots of Conservative MPs who would be appalled at the prospect of Donald Trump returning to office,” former cabinet minister Gauke said.
“But it’s quite a vociferous grouping [backing Trump] and the fact that they feel emboldened enough to make this point just demonstrates that there’s something wrong with the party,” he added.
Center-right Tory Chancellor Jeremy Hunt tried some coded criticism for Trump last week, warning that a return to U.S. protectionism would be a “profound mistake” if the Republican wins the U.S. election in November.
Yet the grouping of ostensibly pro-Trump Tories may only get larger in the coming weeks as Trump looks set to cruise to the Republican nomination.
“[Trump] makes good copy, and he’s gonna continue to make good copy. And I’ve got colleagues who cannot help but fall over themselves to add to the copy,” Burt said.