‘Freedom-loving Brits’? It’s not that simple, Prime Minister | Julian Baggini

Equating freedom with an absent state is an old conservative trick that suits only those who don’t need protecting

Why, if Britain is the great nation Boris Johnson says it is at every opportunity, has it handled the coronavirus pandemic so much worse than countries such as Germany and Italy? Like a job interviewee who “confesses” to be being “a bit of a perfectionist”, the prime minister’s answer to this question is a boast in thin disguise. “There is an important difference between our country and many other countries around the world,” Johnson told the House of Commons yesterday. “Our country is a freedom-loving country.”

Johnson portrayed this as a primal impulse that resides deep in the national psyche, saying he was “deeply, spiritually reluctant to make any of these impositions, or infringe anyone’s freedom”. When it comes to liberty, if nothing else, the UK is world-beating. “Virtually every advance, from free speech to democracy, has come from this country,” claimed the self-proclaimed leader of the free world.

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