LONDON — Britain and the United States have often seemed lashed together amid the populist storms of the last few years — Brexit and the Trump White House echoing and amplifying each other across the Atlantic. But in one respect they have radically diverged.
In London, rebels in the Conservative Party staged a dramatic insurrection in the past week against Prime Minister Boris Johnson, blocking his plan to withdraw Britain from the European Union even without a deal. In Washington, scarcely a handful of Republicans have stood up to President Trump, even when he has flouted party orthodoxy on issues such as trade, immigration, and the deficit.
The Tories revolt against Johnson, and his ruthless purging of the rebels, are reverberating through British politics, threatening his hold on power. For dispirited Republicans, though, this British revolution has become an object lesson in how a center-right party can stand up to a wayward leader.
Conservative rebels “showed courage and principled concern about the impact of bad policy on the U.K. economy,” said Daniel Price, who served as an economic adviser to President George W. Bush.
“This contrasts with congressional Republicans here who have mostly been meek, mute, or complicit.”
The uprising in Westminster came even though British political parties enforce discipline far more strictly than their US counterparts. Johnson punished the 21 renegades by throwing them out of the party. Trump can ostracize Republican dissidents and dry up their funding, but he cannot expunge them from the party rolls.
Much of the difference, experts said, has to do with the magnitude of the crisis on each side of the Atlantic. The Tories who broke with Johnson regard his vow to take Britain out of the EU on Oct. 31, come what may, as so reckless that it poses a dire threat to the nation — one that would wreak economic havoc and sunder both their party and British society.
Analysts warn that a no-deal Brexit, one in which Britain abruptly leaves Europe without transitional arrangements on trade or borders, will lead to shortages of food and medicine, trucks backed up on both sides of the English Channel, and the threat of violence in Northern Ireland, where a hard border could reignite sectarian troubles that all sides thought they had left behind.
“To deliver Brexit like this is to create a poison pill which for 40 years will divide this country straight down the middle,” Rory Stewart, a rising star of the Conservative Party, said in a BBC Radio interview.
Stewart, who challenged Johnson for Tory party leadership in June, learned of his expulsion from the party via a text message Tuesday just minutes before GQ magazine honored him as its politician of the year.
While many Republicans deplore Trump’s divisive language and erratic conduct, few accept the argument — at least publicly — that he poses a comparable threat to the United States. However distasteful they find him, Republicans largely back his agenda, whether it is the appointment of conservative judges, the passage of tax cuts, or deregulation.
They are even willing to tolerate his overturning of traditional Republican priorities such as free trade, in part because of the damage they fear a vengeful Trump could do to them personally at the polls. The president has thoroughly taken over the Republicans, remaking the party of Lincoln in his image and institutionalizing policies that, only a few years ago, would have seemed extreme to them.
Johnson wants to engineer a similar takeover of the Conservatives, purifying the party of Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher so it can repel challenges from the hard-core pro-Brexit movement, which now has its own competing party. If he clings to power, a more radicalized Tory party could yet emerge.
But Johnson offers little to supporters beyond a promise to leave the EU next month. His other policies — tax cuts, more money for the police, tighter immigration rules — are standard-issue Conservative fare. Several of his rivals for the party leadership this spring ran on substantively similar platforms.
“There’s not much of a quid pro quo there,” said Tim Bale, a professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London.
In fact, Bale noted, a few of the rebels — notably Philip Hammond, who advocated a policy of austerity as chancellor of the Exchequer in the previous Conservative government — were put off by Johnson’s profligate spending plans.
While Johnson’s flamboyant image and populist appeals bear a surface similarity to Trump, he has not mobilized a grass-roots political movement anywhere near that of the president. Nor does he enjoy the prerogatives of a presidential system with a fixed four-year term. This past week, he wasn’t even able to call an election without the assent of the opposition Labor Party.
Johnson’s first foray into Parliament as prime minister was an unmitigated disaster. He lost four key votes in a row and faces the specter of having to do something he vowed he would never do: Ask Brussels for an extension of the date when Britain will leave the EU.
Until last week, Johnson, as a new prime minister, would at least have had the reliable backing of his party.
“There is a very strong sense of party loyalty,” Bale said. “Most [members of Parliament] recognize that they owe their seats to the party, not to themselves. It is a measure of the depth of feeling that so many of them stood up.”
In addition to Hammond and Stewart, the group included Kenneth Clarke, the most senior member of the House of Commons; David Gauke, a former attorney general; and Nicholas Soames, grandson of Churchill. Even Johnson’s brother, Jo Johnson, resigned, saying he was “torn between family loyalty and the national interest.”
Some Republicans, like Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, have come out against Trump’s trade war with China. Others, like former senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, have raised alarms about his handling of national security.
Still, after watching Republicans stand by Trump in the Russia investigation and the furor over his remarks after the racial clashes in Charlottesville, Va., analysts have largely given up any expectations of wholesale defections.
“If Trump proposed to do something really radical, like pulling out of NATO, maybe you would see some Republicans stand up,” said Thomas Wright, director of the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution.
“But Republicans are largely happy with the legislative items being sent to the Hill.”