Boris Johnson — AEI Annual Dinner 2018

NARRATOR: Wait. Wait, wait a minute. Hold it right there. Let me ask you a question. What do you see here? If you’re thinking AEI, you’re right. This is the headquarters of the American Enterprise
Institute, but at heart, AEI is more than just a place. AEI is an idea. It’s an idea that champions individual liberty,
advances American leadership, lifts people to their highest, and pulls them up from their
lowest. It’s the idea that competitive, free enterprise
is what makes this all possible. While the expressions have changed and many
different faces have made their mark, the idea has been the same since our founding. VERMONT ROYSTER: AEI is a nonprofit, non-partisan,
research institution located in Washington DC. NARRATOR: You see, this idea will always be
needed. RONALD REAGAN: I’m confident that AEI will
carry on this vital work another four decades and beyond. NARRATOR: Join us in continuing a legacy that
is reaffirmed every day. MALE PRESENTER: Ladies and gentlemen, please
welcome AEI President Arthur C. Brooks. (Applause.) ARTHUR BROOKS: Good evening ladies and gentlemen. Please take your seats. Good evening ladies and gentlemen. I’m Arthur Brooks, president of the American
Enterprise Institute. Welcome to the 2018 Annual Dinner and Irving
Kristol Award. We’re here tonight with old friends and new
friends and good food in this beautiful setting, to celebrate here at the National Building
Museum a community that we have built together. AEI is a community of 250 scholars and staff,
and 1,600 supporters. As many of you know, we were founded in 1938. Eighty years ago this year. This is our 40th annual dinner. Amazing. Some of you have been to most of them. My first AEI annual dinner was in 2007. I was a professor at Syracuse University and
I was invited as a visiting scholar at AEI to attend this wonderful event. And my wife Esther and I, we came down from
Syracuse like country mice, and we looked at this crowd and we said, these are people
I only ever see on TV. And we were watching the speaker with binoculars,
and – which gives you an idea what table I got – and Esther turned to me, and she
said, can you imagine hosting this dinner? And I said, no chance. America is such a great country. Within a year, I was president of the American
Enterprise Institute. You never know what life has in store for
you. This is my tenth year as host to this event,
and it’s also my last. As many of you know, I announced a few months
ago that this is the last year of my presidency of AEI. Over the past 10 years, I’ve given over a
thousand public speeches in service of our mission, traveling all over this great country
talking about dignity and human potential, and gathering support for the magnificent
work of AEI scholars, who are, just like you, dedicated to the principles of limited government
in a free society and the belief that America’s values are a gift to the world. What a privilege has been. When I first began this job 10 years ago – I
will be honest – I was extremely nervous about speaking in public. I hadn’t done it that much. It was something I needed to get better at,
and somebody gave me a piece of advice. They told me to read a book. Not a lofty piece of literature that our scholars
produced, but rather a book on self-improvement. It’s a famous book by Dale Carnegie: “How
to Win Friends and Influence People.” And in that book, Dale Carnegie brilliantly
travels all over the United States and asks the most successful people the secrets to
their success. In that book, when he’s talking to a great
magician of the time in the 1920s, Howard Thurston he asks “what is the secret to
your performance, you’re the greatest performer of your generation,” and Howard Thurston,
the magician he said “simple, gratitude.” He said, “every night before I go out on
stage I recite this little meditation. I am grateful because these people came to
see me. They make it possible for me to make my living
in a very agreeable way. I’m going to give them the very best I possibly
can,” and then, right before we stepped on the stage he said “I love my audience. I love my audience.” That gave me a lot of help early on in this
in this job because gratitude and practice really are the secret to good performance. But I was thinking about that earlier today
and it occurred to me that as I step on stage tonight and I gave that same little meditation
of gratitude and love, it’s not just to calm my nerves, it’s really a sincere expression
of the gratitude, and I love – and love that I feel for the people in this room. And I want to take just a couple of minutes
and tell you why I have so much gratitude toward you. To begin with, here tonight among this group
are my true intellectual heroes and some of my closest friends. As a graduate student many years ago, I remember
reading the works of great AEI scholars Leon Kass and Nick Eberstadt and Michael Novak. And I thought to myself, I will never meet
these people. But they helped me to understand that my views
about individual liberty and American strength, they’re not weird. And I can be an intelligent, cultured, sophisticated
person, and maybe even a public or professional intellectual and hold these views. I’m so grateful for that. Nothing gives me greater satisfaction than
to support the work of the scholars and staff of AEI. And in particular I want to mention one. I want to mention the scholar that has had
more influence on my thinking than any other single individual, and that’s Charles Murray. (Applause) Charles Murray retired from full-time service
at AEI this year. You wouldn’t know it based on his productivity. You can’t tell when Charles Murray’s retired. Charles Murray is somebody that I started
reading many, many years ago. And when I read his work, I thought, if I
could use data and social science like that to try to express things that are going on
in human life, then I would be successful. And when I finally came to a AEI, and I was
president of AEI, and I called up Charles, and I said, Charles can we have lunch? And he said, “you’re the president of AEI.” And we got together, and I realized that he’s
not just a great scholar, he’s a great friend. He was going to be, and indeed he has become
a role model for me in so many ways. What a gift it’s been to be a small part of
his extraordinary career. My life has also been immeasurably enriched
by my friendships with people in this room, people like Tony Friedman and Dan D’Aniello,
the (current ?) chairman of AEI’s extraordinary board, and so many other members of this community. These people have not only supported me as
I’ve been the head of this organization, they patiently taught me about leadership. If things have gone well at AEI, it’s because
of them. The second source of my gratitude was probably
even more obvious than that. As you know – as you should know, this institution
doesn’t just run on good feelings, although we have them. We spend about $50 million a year to build
our idea agenda and communicate it to millions of people every year around the world. We actually have the most inefficient business
model in America: we’re in the business of losing $50 million a year in intellectual
property, and you make that possible. It’s incredible. We combine your financial resources with the
intellectual resources of our scholars, and staff to produce the expression of our shared
values, on behalf of people at the periphery of society. But here’s the greatest source of my gratitude,
as I finish tonight. At AEI, we have a subversive mission that
you support. From the earliest days, AEI’s model was
that a competition of ideas is fundamental to a free society. Think about that. A competition of ideas. Not agreement on one thing, but to compete
freely. Why? Because competition brings excellence. Monopoly brings stagnation, and it brings
mediocrity. That’s true in the economy and it’s true in
electoral politics and it’s true in ideas. To get true excellence we need to disagree,
and disagree freely with civility, and respect and even love for each other. That’s what we stand for. No party line. (Applause.) We have a crisis in this country today of
too many people in public life not dedicated enough to the competition of ideas, but rather
too many people intent on shutting down that competition with insults and intimidation
and even contempt. That leads to mediocrity, but it also is morally
disordered. Every single person in this room loves someone
with whom they disagree politically. In our culture of contempt, when strangers
on your side politically urge you to say that your loved ones are stupid and evil, we have
a major problem. I am most grateful to be a member of a community
that rejects the culture of contempt. We are countercultural, and that’s fine. We simply do our work and we remember our
mission principles. Let me remind you of these mission principles:
that we are brothers and sisters; human dignity is radically equal for all of us in all circumstances
in all stages of life, every place in the world. (Applause.) That progress, progress – were progressives. Progress is always possible by unleashing
the greatest source of energy in history, which is human potential, and it is the American
free enterprise system that has pulled billions of our brothers and sisters out of poverty
in our lifetimes, that is the most potent system ever discovered to instantiate the
human potential. (Applause) And it’s America’s international leadership
– economic, cultural, diplomatic and military – that has set people free around the world
to live up to their highest potential. And with our hard work and with our prayers,
America will always do so. (Applause.) Let me sum up what we’re all about at AEI. We want America to live up to its promise
as a country of ambitious riff-raff pursuing happiness, building something good and meaningful,
earning our success, sharing our values, and serving each other. These are the principles that are written
in the hearts of the people in this room, and instantiated every day by the scholars
and staff, supporters, trustees, and friends of the American Enterprise Institute. What fills me with gratitude the most is having
been given the gift of leading not this organization, but indeed this movement for the past 10 years. God bless you, and thank you so very much. (Applause.) Thank you and now it’s on to our program,
and a wonderful program it’s going to be. The intellectual program comes first, then
supper, and then the serious business of drinking and exchanging business cards. (Laughter.) Tonight we’re honored as always at this event,
to the bestow of AEI’s annual award, the Irving Kristol Award, named in memory of our
beloved friend and colleague, the late Irving Kristol. Before we introduce this year’s winner, I
want to turn the microphone over to Bill Kristol, friend of so many of us for so many years,
the son of Irving Kristol and editor-at-large of the Weekly Standard. He’s going to speak for a moment about his
father and his legacy. Ladies and gentlemen, Bill Kristol (Applause) BILL KRISTOL: Good evening. It’s an honor to join Arthur in welcoming
you to this annual dinner and congratulating Boris Johnson on the – I think it’s the
15th Irving Kristol Award. It’s a distinguished group that Boris joins. Before that, actually, there were about a
quarter century of Francis Boyer Awards, so that’s also a very distinguished group if
you look it up going back to 1977. I remember when Chris DeMuth in 2003 told
my father that the AEI board had voted to change the annual award and lecture from the
Francis Boyer lecture to the Irving Kristol lecture, he was – my father was not much
moved by these kinds of honors, honestly, but with that one meant something to him. AEI meant so much to him. And I remember later on talking to him, and
saying – but don’t you feel a little guilty, a little bad about Francis Boyer? And my father said, “No, not really. He had a good run.” You know, I think the Irving Kristol award
has had a good run and hopefully has a few more years at it, but it’s a dog-eat-dog world
out there, you know. Creative destruction, all that stuff that
people at AEI are in favor of. So anyway, it has been a wonderful group. I mean, preceding Boris, people like Charles
Murray, whom Arthur mentioned, and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, and Benjamin Netanyahu, Leon Kass. And looking over the list I was reminded that
Charles Krauthammer who sadly, as you know, died this summer, was the second awardee and
really a wonderful talk worth rereading, that he gave. My mother, who was slightly indisposed — she’s
in good shape, but couldn’t be here tonight – sends her best to so many old friends
and former colleagues. She congratulates Boris. She was pleased, so she told me — it’s good
that they’re giving the award to a magazine editor. And I said – I mean, my mother you know
has read – she said to me, I read the London’s — I read The Spectator before Boris Johnson
was born, back in the 40s and 50s, and read it under his editorship in the, I guess, late
1990s, early part of the 2000s, and has read it since, and — but I said you, know mom,
I mean Boris became Mayor of London for two terms I think it was, and then Foreign Secretary,
he’s not just a magazine editor really. And my mother said, for the Kristol’s, magazine
editor is the highest title. Which I of course, certainly agree with. I really just want to say a word, but not
about my father at this time, but about Arthur. And Arthur didn’t know I was going to do this,
but his 10 years really have been extraordinary here at AEI. He followed Chris DeMuth, who’s I think it
was 22 years, were also extraordinary. And the lesson I take in management and institutions
from the tenure of Chris and Arthur is that it’s really a good thing for an institution
to have excellent leaders. (Laughter.) I recommend it to everyone else here who’s
running institutions. I mean, it really is – it’s a high standard
obviously. I think of that a third of a century, under
Chris and Arthur being the preeminent think-tank I think in Washington and in the country,
perhaps in the world – a place that really respects excellence, but also respects diversity
of views and approaches, that really shows that excellence and diversity can really go
together. A place that has always resisted, I think
what’s fashionable, tried to look beyond the headlines while also influencing the headlines
at times; tried to follow intellectual conclusions to their end, and not worry too much about
whether they’re popular, at least in the short term. I mean all those things were really an achievement
of actually the predecessors to Chris and Arthur, but especially of Chris and Arthur,
and especially in this last decade of Arthur. He took over an institution that was already
strong and made it stronger yet. It’s a very good example I think for us in
this day and age that shunning vulgarity, resisting conformity, avoiding mere popularity
is the right thing to do. It’s very much in been in the long-term interest
of a — which stands as an example now, I think – not just other think tanks, but
actually to the academic world. Arthur’s stepping down as you know as president
of AEI, and is also stepping down by going to Harvard. I hope – I mean I say this, I shouldn’t
I say this – I say this as a loyal Harvard man and — but it’s the true fact, honestly,
that the intellectual, the caliber of the work of AEI the commitment to truth, the commitment
to honest and respectful discourse, but also serious discourse in terms of calling people
to account, is I think something that Arthur can bring to Harvard from AEI or — good luck
with that, Arthur. But I do want to say that I really think AEI
is an example not just for DC, but for the country, and indeed for the world. An example we need more than ever. Maybe I could even ask you – I don’t have
a glass here, but to raise a glass and join me and in toasting Arthur Brooks at this — what
will be I suppose the last annual dinner he’ll preside over. He will of course — there’ll be a huge number
I’m sure of events before he leaves in the spring and summer Arthur’s planning a whole
bunch of them, I believe – (laughter) – commemorating his tenure. But since this is the last annual dinner he’ll
be at, let’s offer a toast to our friend and our leader, Arthur Brooks. ARTHUR BROOKS: Thank you, Bill, and thank
you to all of you. One of the great — one of the many great
things about this job is being able to meet the most interesting people in the world. And it’s actually easy. You call them up and say, would you like to
come to a AEI? And they almost always say yes. It’s incredible, and tonight’s award winner
is one of those people. Somebody I’ve always wanted to meet. Probably you have always wanted to meet him
too. He is a member of the British Parliament. He was the UK Secretary of State for Foreign
and Commonwealth Affairs. He was the Mayor of London. He’s a best-selling author, and renowned historian. He’s a cult figure in the UK, as a matter
of fact, famous for everything, from tackling a German politician in a soccer match, to
having a bicycle named after him, to his hair. And I say that just because I’m jealous. Most importantly this is a man who loves liberty,
who values free enterprise, and who understands the role that his country and our country
play in the future of the world. Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of the entire
AEI community, our scholars, staff and trustees, it is my honor to officially award the American
Enterprise Institute’s 2018 Irving Kristol Award to the Honorable Boris Johnson. (Applause) BORIS JOHNSON: Thank you very much. Thank you very much, Arthur. Sit down – Thank you. I’m most honored. Thank you. Come on. Sit down. And we’ll get through dinner. Thank you. I’m very honored. ARTHUR BROOKS: Hello, Boris. BORIS JOHNSON: Good evening, Arthur. ARTHUR BROOKS: How wonderful to see you here. How delighted I was the — I was under stress
because you had votes last night in the Parliament and you had to come this morning, and we were
watching your flight all the way across the Atlantic. BORIS JOHNSON: Well, wild horses wouldn’t
have kept me away, and I’m absolutely thrilled to be here at the American Enterprise Institute. I take — I was — you could have knocked
me down with a feather when I got the news that you were going to give me the Irving
Kristol Award, and I haven’t been so surprised since I was 25 and I got a letter from Monash
University, Melbourne saying that I was going to be a professor of European thought. It turned out to be a case of mistaken identity. (Laughter.) Sincerely, that’s not the case tonight,
but it was – this is a very important institution. I followed the work of AEI scholars and of
people associated with this body, for many, many years, and you have been incredibly influential,
and drivers for change and for things I believe in. And it’s great to be here tonight. ARTHUR BROOKS: Thank you Boris. Thank you for your generosity on behalf of
all of us. I want to start — we’re going to talk about
highfalutin things this evening, but I want to start at the personal level. Something that a lot of people here don’t
know about you. You were born in America. BORIS JOHNSON: I was. In New York, where my parents were. I wanted to be close to my mother at the time,
as they say, and I – it was a very expensive decision, because it turned out that the United
States – what you call it, the Inland Revenue? ARTHUR BROOKS: The Internal Revenue Service. BORIS JOHNSON: The Internal Revenue Service
– ARTHUR BROOKS: Well acquainted to the people
in this room. BORIS JOHNSON: Yeah. Well, anyway. In order to help you guys out, they pursued
me for the tax on the sale of my primary dwelling in London, even though I hadn’t lived in America
for 45 years, which I thought was excessive. (Laughter.) And so with great reluctance, and it was — it
was a very emotional moment. With great reluctance I had to forswear that
citizenship. ARTHUR BROOKS: So you had to renounce your
citizenship. BORIS JOHNSON: What could I do? I’m like the man in the Bible, I went soaring
— for he had great possessions. Not great possessions in my case, but enough. ARTHUR BROOKS: So you realize that this makes
it impossible for you to be elected president of the United States? BORIS JOHNSON: Yes. (Laughter.) ARTHUR BROOKS: Tell me about your upbringing. One of the things that we have in common,
is that both of our mothers were professional painters. I found that interesting, and so tell me about
your childhood. Tell me about your upbringing a little bit. BORIS JOHNSON: Well it’s absolutely true. My mother — my mother’s is — she is a painter,
and I’ve always wanted to paint very badly myself, and indeed do paint very badly – I
do – but I – you know, it’s a — she’s been an inspiration to me. She’s by the way, she’s very much on the Left,
and — I don’t what the relevance of that is, but she is. But she — I’m thoroughly supportive of painters
everywhere. (Laughter.) ARTHUR BROOKS: Well, it’s good to know,
that Boris has the painter vote. And you were you’re brought up in a mixed
household, left and right. What brought you to your politics that you
currently have? BORIS JOHNSON: Funnily enough I was pretty
— I was pretty kind of middle-of-the-road until university, where I was the exposure
to other left-wing students – bourgeois, affluent, hypocritical left-wing students
– ARTHUR BROOKS: Ah, the best kind. BORIS JOHNSON: — and their virulent hatred
of Margaret Thatcher, about whom I had no really strong views until then. And they supported the miners’ leader, Arthur
Scargill, in his attempt to bring down the democratically elected government of the UK. I first felt the stirrings of conservative
sentiment then. ARTHUR BROOKS: Fundamentally, you are a contrarian. BORIS JOHNSON: Well, I suppose I was. That’s a good insight, Arthur. Yes, I was a – (laughter) – my right wing
feelings were triggered, to use the modern word, by a sense of outrage at their gluttonous
hypocrisy. ARTHUR BROOKS: So why don’t we call it that
in the United States? The gluttonous hypocrisy. Would that win elections in America? BORIS JOHNSON: I don’t know. I think you should give it a go. ARTHUR BROOKS: So when was your first elective
office? BORIS JOHNSON: As a student, I won something
as a student I think, but my first elected — I tried to get elected in Wales in 1997,
which was the year of the biggest conservative route since 1906, and I fought — I fought
Clwyd South and Clwyd South fought back in a big way, and I didn’t win then, but I then
got in in 2001 in Henley. ARTHUR BROOKS: And you’ve been in public life
ever since? Almost. BORIS JOHNSON: Yes. I was mayor of London a couple of times. ARTHUR BROOKS: I’ve heard that. The — one of the things that you’re really
well known for, besides public life, besides political life is being a best-selling author,
which is pretty unusual. It’s particularly a highbrow intellectual
work, which your “Churchill Factor” most certainly is. Churchill is somebody who admire a great deal,
and in that great book — which I recommend all of you for your interest — Boris writes,
“Churchill matters today, because he saved our civilization. And the important point is that only he could
have done it.” Tell me a little bit about your admiration
for Winston Churchill, and the key lessons that you learned from him today, that we can
all learn from him today. BORIS JOHNSON: Well the key thing about Churchill
was that he was so fantastically brave, you know. He wasn’t a big guy, and he was – he was
bullied at school, he was pelted with cricket balls, and he ran away. He was only five foot six and half inches
tall, and he had a thirty-inch chest as a young man. He was already — he was a runty shrimpy kind
of guy. You didn’t know that. But he turned himself by sheer effort of will
into this extraordinary colossus who dominated so much of British politics and world politics
in the 20th century. And the key point for me is that although
he made so many mistakes and got so many things wrong, from Gallipoli to the abdication crisis
to going back on gold to his attitude towards Indian independence. He got things catastrophically wrong. But the one big thing he got right in May
1940, when the UK had to make a decision about whether to fight on or to do a deal with Mussolini
and with Hitler. And if Churchill hadn’t been in that room,
there’s no doubt at all in my mind that we would have come to terms of some kind. And he made all the difference because he
basically decided that it would be a disaster for his country, for the British Empire, and
for civilization if we did that deal. And within a year of that decision 30,000
British men, women, and children had been killed by Nazi bombs. Thirty thousand. But as a result of his decision to fight on,
I believe that he saved the European continent from absolute barbarism. (Applause.) And so it was — it was a willingness – I’ll
just look at this — it was a willingness to think for himself
and to be brave that we need to — we need to follow that today. ARTHUR BROOKS: Give me an example. Give me an example of something where we need
to be brave, to follow our instincts to more noble ends. BORIS JOHNSON: Well, since you since you drag
it from me kicking and screaming. Actually you didn’t, but I’ll tell you anyway. I think that we need — when you look at our
country, when you look at the UK — we have a great choice right now, and we are in the
throes of — some of you may have seen from the news — we’re in the throes of deciding
exactly how to carry out this Brexit. We did quite well. We got through almost ten minutes without
Brexit. ARTHUR BROOKS: Well, it’s all over now. BORIS JOHNSON: But we have a choice. And I would just say to all you scholars,
and supporters of the American Enterprise Institute, this is a critical moment for everybody
who cares about free markets, about competition, about global free trade, about all the things
— as you were saying earlier, Arthur — all things that lifted billions of people out
of poverty. The UK could be about to come loose of the
European system of regulation and government. It could be about to enter the global system
as an independent economic actor again, able to campaign for pro-competitive policies. (Applause.) That’s the opportunity, and I hope very much
that, with you with you guys, with America, we can work together to deliver that agenda. And you know there’s a conversation going
on in my country about exactly how to do it. It is difficult. But the last thing we want now, is for us
the Brits, having made this momentous decision to go for Brexit, to be sucked back by the
tractor beam of Brussels. The tractor beam is the word I want — into
the orbit, the regulatory lunar pool – ARTHUR BROOKS: Brussels is the Death Star,
in case you are not following the reference – BORIS JOHNSON: No. I lived in Brussels. My daughter was born in Brussels. ARTHUR BROOKS: Some of his best friend are
in Brussels. BORIS JOHNSON: I love Brussels. It’s a wonderful town. I love Belgium. But the fact is that – ARTHUR BROOKS: Beer, chocolate, bureaucracy. BORIS JOHNSON: The EU, for all its achievements
— and there have been great achievements over the last 50, 60 years — 70 years of
the of the EU’s existence. For all its achievements, it really is no
longer right in its current form for the UK. We’ve done the right thing. We’ve done the right thing. (Applause.) But having done that — having done that — we’ve
got to make sense of it, and there is no point at all in us coming out of the EU, only two
remain effectively in large measure run by the EU. If you’re going to take back control, then
take back control, and use it for a purpose. So I hope very much it will get the support
of you guys in achieving that objective. (Applause.) ARTHUR BROOKS: I’m going to come back to this
issue in just a minute, but I want to go slightly backward, to another book that you wrote that
bears on this subject. He wrote a very popular book about the history
of Rome. An issue on which, or a subject in which you
have some expertise. And in it you observed that one of the great
things that the Romans did was to create a common identity across cultures and languages
and tribes. And yet you have also said that you believe
that Rome, and the European Union bear relatively little resemblance. So tell me — tell me why they’re so different,
such that we can get back to Brexit and your understanding of your separation from the
EU, and how it’s in your interest. BORIS JOHNSON: I was living in in Brussels
actually, and thinking deeply — as I always do — about the European civilization, and
its relationship with its past, and I have no doubt at all but in a deep Freudian way,
the European integration is the (federalists ?) — want to recreate that idea of this great
unified whole, that was represented by the Roman Empire. That’s at the core. You look at what some of the – Mario Prodi
said the same thing just the other day. And it was an amazing thing the Roman Empire. It lasted, well, from 73 BC to wherever you
dated to, you know. Some say it still hasn’t fallen, you know. Whatever, you know, 476 AD I’d suppose you’d
say was Roman. It was a long time. It was fantastically successful, and I think
the differences between the EU, and the Roman Empire are very instructive, because what
you’ve got now is an attempt to create this unity, in this whole with a flag, and with
anthems, and a sort of political union, and then I was talking about creating a European
president and that kind of thing. But what it lacks is that single charismatic
sense of identity and allegiance that the Roman Empire had. Everybody knew the Emperor, and everybody
— actually everybody important around the Roman Empire had to swear loyalty to the Emperor,
and in some cases actually worship the Emperor. And the only real comparator with the Roman
Empire today in terms of that pungent sense of identity — a pluribus unum — you know
where I’m going with this. ARTHUR BROOKS: I have an idea, but take me
there. BORIS JOHNSON: — it is the United States. Which takes people from around the world and
makes them American, and has this extraordinary global brand to which everybody aspires. And with the best will in the world the EU
isn’t like that. The EU is composed of different proud countries,
that have their own traditions and their own sense of identity, and yes I think there is
growing a kind of sense of European identity, but it’s nothing by comparison with the strength
of national feeling in the European continent. And so I think that the erosion of democracy
in the EU is worrying. And you’re seeing some bad effects now. ARTHUR BROOKS: So give us some advice here. You’re – we’re American – you’re an admirer
of the United States who – I know you love this country. What do you see in identity politics in America
today that reminds you a little bit too much of the sub-national identities, that have
made the EU project impossible to achieve its own claims due to its own internal contradictions? What are the warning signs you see in America
today? BORIS JOHNSON: You know, I think it’d be impertinent
of me to comment on American politics. ARTHUR BROOKS: God forbid. BORIS JOHNSON: All I will say is I think that
there is a – I went to school here. Other members of my family went to school
here, — you have a thing, you pledge allegiance to the flag — just everybody sings the Star-Spangled
Banner. It’s a fantastically unifying culture, and
I applaud that, and I admire that. I have to say, I think it’s very important. As for the identity politics you know, that’s
a problem everywhere, and we need to be unifying. ARTHUR BROOKS: I appreciate the fact that
you admire that. I pray we never lose it. BORIS HOJNSON: I (inaudible). I see no reason why you should. ARTHUR BROOKS: Now back to Brexit. You have strong views, obviously. Well known strong views on Brexit. A lot of your fellow citizens in the UK disagree
with you on this. You are a national leader. People look to you for leadership going forward
in your country. Who knows what the future might bring? What are your plans for bringing America back
together as a people, across the terrible fissure that is differences on Brexit? BORIS JOHNSON: Well as I say, I think America
is in good shape. I’m not going to comment about it I think
it would be impertinent of me to comment about America. If I were to recover my American passport,
I might you know take a role, but that’s not going to happen. Within the UK what we need to do is get on
and deliver a great Brexit. And I have my views about how that should
be done. I think it’s possible to do that. I think that a vision was sketched out at
Lancaster House in January of last year, that a big free trade deal and so on and so on. We need to get that done. Then we need to bring people together. I think people will want to come together. The best thing possible to unify our country
would be, if we could have beaten the French in the World Cup and that would – that really
– that would have been — that was my plan. But you know we’re back to the drawing board,
there. We came fourth. We came second in the Olympics, by the way. Yeah. To you. It wasn’t bad. ARTHUR BROOOKS: You are modest in your advice
to the United States, but I want to talk a little bit about the United States, in your
view a little bit more. I want to talk about the special relationship
with the UK. We talk about it a lot. It’s important to us, it inspires all of us,
and I know it’s important to you, and in United Kingdom as well. Tell me what does the special relationship
mean in your view? Where is it and what are the perils that we
face today? BORIS JOHNSON: I banned the phrase special
relationship in the Foreign Office. But because you know — it sounds kind of
needy. I’m not sure that it’s much used in Washington. I know it’s a phrase that was coined by, I
suppose Churchill. It was — it’s part of us trying to be more
special to you perhaps. There’s an asymmetry — there’s an asymmetry
in, as in so many romantic relationships there’s an asymmetry implied. And that’s why I reject that term. But it matters. It matters hugely. We two countries do represent, I think, values
that are fantastic importance to our world. Freedom, democracy, the rule of law. This stuff really, really matters, and those
values are not uncontested right now. And they’re not necessarily prevailing in
the way that we thought they were going to. And we need to work harder together. And that’s why the special relationship – I
use the phrase, but the UK and the U.S. working together with our friends and partners is
more vital than ever before. But you know this is — these are two countries
that are united by economics. I think we have a million people go to work
in the UK who are in the US companies, a million people here in the States in British companies. It’s an extraordinary thing, and I guess – I’m
told you watch the Great British Bake Off. Is that right? There you go. That the most enthusiastic response I’ve had
all evening, for – I don’t even watch the Great British Bake Off myself I’m ashamed
to say. I’m ashamed to say. But you know, there is a huge cultural — all
the journalists in New York seem to be Brits. It’s extraordinary. What’s going on? That’s an exaggeration, but you know there
are Brits everywhere here. That’s a fine thing. ARTHUR BROOKS: So we can’t say special relationship
anymore. I’m trying to think of anything more modern. I’m thinking friends with benefits. BORIS JOHNSON: I don’t know – ARTHUR BROOKS: That means something different
here. Sorry. BORIS JOHNSON: Benefits. You’ve been very influential in finding ways
of reforming benefits at the AEI, but I don’t know – (Cross talk.) ARTHUR BROOKS: (Inaudible) — that’s really
the best. What do you believe, are the — given the
fact that there is a relationship, special otherwise between the UK and the United States? What are the top foreign policy priorities,
do you think that we should be pursuing together? This is something you thought a lot about
as Foreign Secretary. BORIS JOHNSON: I did. Well, I mean, you know, we work hand in glove
across the world, and — get back to my main point tonight, I think trade — free trade,
opening up the global economy, I worry about — I worry about the closing in of our approach
at the moment. Global trade is not growing in anything like
the way it should be. We haven’t had a big trade deal since the
end of the of the Uruguay round in 1994, I think, and which I covered myself as a journalist. We need to be doing that together. We should be sorting – we should be doing
better in the Middle East. We should be working harder on Syria. I got to be honest with you, I think Syria
was our policy in retrospect was not the right one, but I don’t want to get on that particular
rabbit hole. One thing we should do, and I this – the
biggest insight I had as Foreign Secretary is that the main problems of the world could
be addressed if we solved female under-education around the world. (Applause.) If we educated women I — when I went to sub-Saharan
Africa, or I went to South Asia I would find countries where female illiteracy was running
at 50, 60, sometimes 80 percent in parts of Africa. In Pakistan you have twice as many male kids
in secondary schools as female kids. How can that produce a healthy balanced approach
to life? I just felt — you look at radicalization,
you look at poverty. All the scourges that we face. They’re all associated with that band of countries
where women are not treated equally – where women, and girls are not treated equally. So the one thing, and it’s a kind of — do
you have a Swiss Army knife? ARTHUR BROOKS: Yes. BORIS JOHNSON: Do you know what I mean by
a Swiss Army knife? It has — it can kind of do anything. I think female education — 12 years of quality
education for every girl in the world would help to fix most of the problems in the world. And we should do that. I really do. ARTHUR BROOKS: You have very strong views
about the future of your country, as is appropriate, and a lot of people follow what you think. A lot of people admire your leadership, here
and in your own country. Obviously, your role in the leadership of
the UK could change a lot in the coming months and years. You must have given it some thought. I’m sure you have. Tell me the two things you’d most like to
see your government do in the coming years? BORIS JOHNSON: Social mobility. Social mobility. That was you know — you think back to the
great achievements of the Thatcher era, which I spoke of earlier. It was about helping people to seize control
of their own destiny, whether it was owning shares which they hadn’t thought of doing
before, or buying their own homes. Fantastically important, and since that big
change in the 1980s, social mobility is frozen again, and we need to recover that. We need to recover that momentum in the UK. And you wanted two things. That’s a big one. I think build a 24-hour hub airport, not in
my constituency. (Laughter.) ARTHUR BROOKS: Number one for you, your top
agenda item for your country is greater social mobility? BORIS JOHNSON: Yes. No question. One of the reasons Brexit took place, or one
of the reasons people voted to leave, was because they felt they weren’t getting a fair
suck of the source bottle, as they say. That they were being stuck — people are stuck
in entry-level jobs. They’re not progressing, and we’re not focusing
on those issues. We’re not helping people enough. I think we discussed this earlier. They’re not being made to feel needed enough. And it’s a serious problem, and I think it
perhaps affects this country, too. ARTHUR BROOKS: Before we finish I have one
question, I really always wanted to ask you about your — in your public life, you’re
in the news a lot. Sometimes you see controversy, you’re not
afraid to take on hottest issues of the day. Tell me the biggest mistake you’ve made in
your public career and what you learned from it? BORIS JOHNSON: Well, my strategy is to is
to litter my career with so many decoy mistakes, nobody knows which one to attack. In the course of the last few minutes, I probably
said something that the British media will decide is absolutely outrageous. I don’t know what it is. I don’t know what it was, but they will
find something, believe me. Then the thing is to keep saying them. I was very proud of a lot of the stuff I did
in London, you know, and people attacked me for the cycle superhighways for instance,
which are these beautiful lanes for the bicycles, which unfortunately block the taxis, and they
get very cross. But I defend it. We save lives of cyclists, and I think it’s
a beautiful thing to do for a city. I’m a totally passionate cyclist, so I don’t
count that as a mistake. The biggest — seriously – ARTHUR BROOKS: By the way, bicycles in London
are called Boris bikes for a reason. And indeed that is true. BORIS JOHNSON: They are. ARTHUR BROOKS: They are not called Boris taxis. BORIS JOHNSOPN: No, but there is. We have that too. There is the electric vehicles. We started them anyway. It must be — London’s going great. Come and visit. Except it was –the new guy – anyway, never
mind. I did make a big — I’ll give you one mistake,
and it relates to the news today and — how we doing? Just quickly. I’ll wrap up on this point. When I became Foreign Secretary I decided
– I mean, I thought there was no objective reason why we should be quite so hostile to
Russia, okay? I thought that – yes, there were lots of
reasons to be suspicious, lots of reasons to be wary, lots of reasons to be very, very
cautious, but I thought it was possible. I made the classic, classic mistake of thinking
it was possible to have a reset with Russia. And I wanted to engage with Putin and with
Sergey Lavrov and to see if we could start talking about things like Syria, areas where
we had – where we needed to engage, where we needed to do things together, tackling
Islamist terrorism and so on. And then it just became clearer and clearer
to me that that was a fool’s errand. And finally on March the 4th, I think it was
this year, we had this outrageous event in Salisbury in Wiltshire, where two agents of
the Russian GRU were involved in a – the murder of Dawn Sturgess, and the attempted
murder of others. And, you know, you see what’s happening now
with these two characters produced in this satirical way by Putin on Russian TV, asked
these ludicrous patsy questions, making a mockery of the whole thing, and it really
makes my blood boil. (Applause.) And you know, I just think, for a government
that wants to be taken seriously to behave like that in 2018, we really have to treat
them with — I mean, I hold that regime in absolute contempt. I think it’s absolutely appalling. (Applause.) And you know, I’ll say now, I think the you
know, — and I say to the to those two guys who are on TV, on Russian TV – yes, they
are murderers. And if they dispute that fact, then they can
sue me in the courts. (Applause.) ARTHUR BROOKS: I think you just said news
for us. I mean, you said the biggest mistake you’ve
made in your public career is having trusted the Russians. BORIS JOHNSON: I – it wasn’t that I trusted
them. I believed I was sufficiently — I was sufficiently
overconfident to think that I could reach out and engage and actually make a difference. And they wouldn’t — and they just haven’t
changed. But I’ll say just one thing in conclusion,
on the special relationship – not the – I wouldn’t allow myself to use that phrase
— on the relationship of the U.S. and the UK, what was so fantastic was, that after
the use of Novichok in Salisbury, 28 countries around the world came together, and there
are more to come by the way – came together and expelled the biggest number of Russian
spies collectively that we’ve ever seen. And I just want to pay a tribute to the United
States because you guys — I’m not certain how universally popular it was, at that decision
at every level of government, but by gum, you came through with the goods. (Applause.) You expelled 60 Russian spies. And I want to say on behalf of the British
people, we are really, really grateful for the solidarity that you showed, and you know
thank you very much. And by the way, if that is a special relationship
then I’m – I’ll take it. ARTHUR BROOOKS: We’ll take it all day long. We’re at the end of our time, Boris. On behalf of my colleagues and friends, and
personally, I want to express my admiration for a lot of things that you’ve done, but
in particular for the attitude, the public attitude you’ve had of optimism toward all
the people in your society, all the people who need more mobility, all the people who
are at the periphery of society who might suffer from despair, but can hear your words
and can to hear the words of leaders, and understand that an opportunity society can
and should be available to every person in your country, and indeed that is the inspiration
behind our institution – that an opportunity society should be open to everyone. For that witness, for that mission on behalf
of all of us, please join me in thanking Boris Johnson. Thank you. BORIS JOHNSON: Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you everybody. Thank you.

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