Deciding what to write about today was “elementary”, as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional detective would say. The international press has had a field day since Boris Johnson was appointed Conservative Party leader (and face of Brexit… again) last Tuesday, following Theresa May’s resignation.
First off, I am well aware that Boris Johnson has many followers in the UK. With this in mind, the purpose of today’s post is not to be scathing about the scruffy-haired ex-Mayor of London (in spite of my own biases), but to gauge the public reaction and, more importantly, to assess the viability of his promise to deliver Brexit in just 100 days from now, come what may.
This last point, if it were to materialise, would be significant for Boris Johnson and the popularity of the Conservative Party as a whole.
After such an extended period – over three years, by this point – of (failed) negotiations, backstops, impasses, internal quarrelling, resignations, personnel changes, deals, no-deals, finger-pointing and walking the high-wire with Europe; the British public are thoroughly fed up with Brexit.
Mr Johnson’s hard-line “Out on October 31st” stance, which was reiterated on Twitter1 last week, is a breath of fresh air for UK citizens who want to see a clarification of the terms of Britain’s departure. This even includes the no-deal eventuality, which the new prime minister has openly endorsed.
After all, the alternative is yet another extension and potentially no outcome until the next general elections in 2022, as the following graphic from Bloomberg shows:
Unfortunately, the press is already out to get Boris. As you know, bad news travels much faster, is further-reaching and is more damaging than good news is exonerating, rewarding and uplifting.
And if, as is the case with Boris Johnson, you are a public figure with a history of controversy and scandal, journalists lick their lips in anticipation of your next slip-up or failure to deliver on an electoral promise.
And Boris has a shady record in that department. You only have to cast your mind back to the high-profile 350 million pounds-a-week NHS pledge scandal in 2016, which was an instrumental “leave” campaign policy and was later completely refuted in a Conservative Party U-turn once the referendum was won.
Many are worried that this string of scandals, public gaffes and infidelities that have followed the new prime minister around for much of his 20-year political career will only grow in number and, metaphorically, come back to bite Britain in the backside.
What’s more, with delicate negotiations needed in the coming weeks, Boris Johnson’s bull in a china shop approach and small-town bigotry might not cut the mustard. It remains to be seen whether backing “the best of a bad bunch” will earn Britain a more favourable Brexit deal than it could achieve under Theresa May.
Boris Johnson has fierce critics within his own party, too. Keith Simpson, Conservative MP for Broadband (a Norfolk constituency, not fast internet), walked out of Mr Johnson’s victory speech last Tuesday telling reporters he “couldn’t stand any more” and that “the circus has come to town”2.
For some Conservative MPs, like sections of the electorate, the eccentricities of the new prime minister are not an endearing quality. However, for others, Boris “off the wall” Johnson has awakened that very British interest in peculiarity. As Matthew d’Ancona of The Guardian puts it, “he activated the narcotic weakness within the English for eccentricity”3.
And perhaps that is good enough. I mean, no one really had a lot of ammunition to use against Theresa May when she first started in the job (apart from the fact she was essentially forced to switch her stance from remain to leave), mainly because she was non-controversial, unassuming and restrained, by comparison.
So, it’s clear that the UK wants a character in charge of the nation. Let’s just hope that character isn’t Krusty the Clown.
What do you think about the appointment of Boris Johnson (regardless of whether you are a “leave” supporter or a “remainer”)? Is it good for the UK or have the Conservatives scored a political and diplomatic own goal? Let me know in the comments!