With Boris Johnson having to withstand criticism from voices both within and outside the UK, Daniele Meloni examines the view of Johnson from a European point of view, and believes there is a deep misunderstanding of the PM fed by anger over Brexit.

If Brexit had a face abroad, it would be Boris Johnson's. Or so, it is what most people outside Britain, and especially in Europe seem to think. The current British Prime Minister is the villain of a saga that has taken Europeans' breath away for most of the last 5 years.

The typical reasoning behind it was – and still is – Brexit is bad for Europe, Johnson got Brexit done, therefore Johnson is bad, both for Britain and for Europe. Any attempt to depict a broader, deeper, all-encompassing explanation of Brexit and Boris Johnson's rise as leader of the Tory party is rejected as nonsensical. That's why I made up my mind to write about Britain's PM and the inner workings of British politics. My book Boris Johnson: his ascent as conservative leader and post Brexit Britain, published by the conservative publishing house Historica – Giubilei Regnani is an effort to set the record straight and tell Italian people the story of Boris and Brexit as they really are.

Italy's anti-Johnson sentiment is constantly fed by stories casting a bad image on the PM and Brexit. The former is depicted as a clownish figure hell-bent on destroying Britain's image all over the world. The latter is a "tragedy" that would see Britain's standing in the world collapse among famines, shortages of food and medicines, and petrol crises. It is painful to say that these nonsensical propositions are taken up by the British Europhile media, with The Guardian leading the way as Italy's journalists preferred source of (dis)information.

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So, when Brexit actually came to pass, the middle-of-the-road Corriere della Sera wrote that we would have to give up on the Beatles, Cool Britannia and even fish & chips because of Britain leaving the EU. They were deadly serious. They emphasised that the EU was not just one of the many supranational organisations that Britain and Italy were part of (like NATO or the UN) but represented "Europe as a whole in the 21st century". Of course, the man leading the UK out of Brussels was given a special treatment. Johnson was portrayed as devious, untrustworthy and a liar. As if all other politicians – including Italian ones – are all sources of truth and impeccable behaviour. When Johnson led the Conservatives to their election victory in 2019 Italian papers – which normally devote three or four pages of analyses to foreign countries' political processes – only wrote a "news in brief".

Since the pandemic began Italy has identified Britain as the country worst-placed to deal with it. Because of Brexit, Britain is no longer part of the civilised world and would be the last country one would be comfortable to be in to be cured of COVID-19. Papers went even as far as to say that Johnson told the public to "get used to losing loved ones" – a blatant lie – and that he changed his mind after being admitted to hospital. As dates, like numbers – and unlike politicians – never lie, one might point out that Britain entered lockdown on the 23rd of March and Johnson was hospitalised in April but even this wouldn't be enough for journalists to retract.

When the Kent variant began to circulate in Europe, left-wing Repubblica splashed the following headline across the front page of the paper: English virus frightens Europe. As if the British, actually the "English", were somehow at fault for not keeping the virus at bay. Finally, when Johnson identified the 21st of July as "Freedom Day" and announced that all restrictions would be lifted, Italian TVs showed pictures of London people walking in shops unmasked and described them as crazy (Italians are still wearing masks outdoors, talking about "nonsensical" things).

A failure to understand Johnson – an Eton-Oxbridge educated representative of the British cosmopolitan establishment, surely neither a revolutionary nor a thug – led to a misinterpretation of Brexit. The UK left the EU and they have to be made to pay for it. When they were in they slowed things down. Now they are out we will all be happier without them, and finally unite the whole of the Continent. This feeling reveals that what Europeans have been lacking since the 23rd of June 2016 wasn't imagination, but pragmatism. Something the despised Brits have in abundance.

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