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"If he displayed the courage he praises at Churchill, Boris Johnson would see much further"
Boris Johnson on the threshold of 10 Downing Street, London, August 6, 2019. TOLGA AKMEN / AFP

Tribune. At the end of 2014, I was given the opportunity to translate Boris Johnson's book on Churchill: Winston. How one man made the story (Stock, 2015). Boris Johnson was then mayor of London. His notoriety was starting to pass the coast of Britain, and the patches of his blond hair already resembled those of a wind vane. Five years have passed since. The man has just reached the post of prime minister after defending the exit of the United Kingdom from Europe.

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Translating is a privileged observation post: you are second-hand, since you are not the author of the original text, but you are at the first box since you are penetrating into the grain of this text, for weeks, whole months. It is such a proximity that the author, the person, not only reveals himself, but betrays himself. These lines are those of a translator, not a political scientist or a historian, but a translator born in Europe, nothing in the escapades, reversals and past denials. And the future of Boris Johnson: we have lived long enough in good textual intelligence.

The good side of the story

Winston. How one man made the story is a brilliant book, but it's as much Churchill's portrait as Johnson's dreamed self-portrait. I remember a slight embarrassment not linked to Boris's admiration for Winston, but to his identification with it. It is true that the two men have a lot in common: tories, eccentric but very controlled, corpulent and endowed with a "boil"; endowed with an innate sense of the image; former journalists knowing embellish the truth ; from a mixture of old English aristocracy and foreign blood.

But the key to the biography written by Boris Johnson is the year 1940, more exactly the day that Churchill, in Westminster, was alone to have the courage to pledge against Nazi Germany. His whole life is envisioned in the light of the moment he stood against the enemy in the name of a free Europe and a united continent. Johnson recalls that Hitler and his family had the fatal project of "Transform this territory into a sinister version of the European Union". He therefore very clearly opposes two types of Union. In his pro-Brexit campaign, he had the gall to assimilate them. He was obviously scandalous, even though he himself was overturning his arguments in favor of Europe.