Boris Johnson has resigned as prime minister of the United Kingdom after a series of scandals that resulted in a revolt from within. So what next for the UK until the future of the government becomes clear?
Boris Johnson’s career as Prime Minister has finally crashed in an irreversible Trumpian fashion as he sought to secure his fragile grip on power despite facing several blows to his reputation.
Although Boris has announced that he has stood down as Conservative Party leader, he will stay on as Prime Minister until autumn, suggesting he wants to grip onto power even after a spate of resignations within his government.
Despite winning a general election with overwhelming popularity, largely under the mantra to “get Brexit done,” Johnson’s reputation has soared.
As over 50 ministers and aides walked out and resigned, his reputation of being untrustworthy and unscrupulous after various scandals became too much to contain, with his own allies wanting to avoid the scrutiny to protect their own careers.
A souring reputation
Johnson has presided over various scandals within his government. Although he hoped he would have a smooth reign in which he could merely enjoy the title of Prime Minister and replicate his idol Winston Churchill, the Covid-19 pandemic dealt the initial blow to his ambitions.
From boasting about shaking people’s hands in Covid wards, to hosting private parties in the Prime Minister’s house in Downing Street while families were told not to meet each other during the Christmas lockdowns, Johnson took several blows to his career.
Even before becoming Prime Minister, Boris had a reputation for dishonesty among those who were close to him. This came from stories such as ‘Carrie-gate,’ when he tried to appoint his former mistress and now-wife Carrie Johnson to his chief of staff while he was Britain’s Foreign Secretary, while he was married to his now ex-wife Marina.
On June 4, Johnson narrowly survived a no-confidence vote from his own party as 148 MPs voted against him, after previous calls to have such a vote, suggesting the Prime Minister’s days were indeed numbered before his resignation announcement.
Domestically, Britain has faced a grave cost of living crisis. Much of the world has been hit by a consumer crisis and inflation following Russia’s war in Ukraine, coupled with global fears of a recession while countries still reeled from the impact of covid-19. Meanwhile, the fiscal impacts of Brexit coupled with London’s lax restrictions on energy giants further trashed Johnson’s image, as consumer confidence in the UK plunged to its lowest level since 1974.
One of the biggest strains of Johnson’s legacy was Britain’s relations with Europe. Asides from being the man to deliver Brexit, relations between the EU and the UK plummeted as Johnson wanted to unilaterally override parts of a key Brexit treaty that applied to Northern Ireland -- called the Northern Ireland Protocol. The Northern Ireland Protocol aims to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland – part of the UK, and the Republic of Ireland, an EU member, but have some trade checks between Britain and the region.
Not long before announcing his resignation, Johnson tried to push through with scrapping the Protocol. He was warned there is “no legal or political justification” for his plans to override the Brexit agreement between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The EU also threatened legal action against London.
Globally, Johnson was never one to try to shy away from his ambitions to enhance Britain’s standing in the world, which many critics would describe as neo-imperialist visions. The idea of a post-Brexit “Global Britain” wanted to compensate for Britain’s trade deficit and departure from the EU, prompting London to establish greater influence in the Gulf, the Indo-Pacific, and also Commonwealth countries that once made up the British Empire.
This led to competition and disputes between London and Brussels, even within NATO over key issues like the Ukraine war, in which both were jockeying for leadership over handling the crisis.
Where is Britain going from now?
Johnson may seek to cling to power, although there is little he can do. Britain is evidently already prepared to move on from Johnson. Optimism has expectedly soared within the EU following the announcement, revealing hopes for better relations between London and Brussels.
Guy Verhofstadt, the European parliament's former Brexit coordinator, said "EU-UK relations suffered hugely with Johnson's choice of Brexit", adding his reign was ending in "disgrace, just like his friend Donald Trump". Meanwhile, Michel Barnier, the EU's former chief negotiator, said Johnson’s departure "opens a new page in relations with" the UK, particularly related to the dispute over the Ireland border.
Of course, Johnson’s resignation does not necessarily mean that his Conservative Party will lose power. Rather, there will be a battle in waiting from other Conservative ministers over who can succeed him, including those who rebelled against him to save their own careers.
The pro-Brexit sentiment was rife before Johnson came to power; he merely capitalized on it and claimed the project for his own political ambitions. As shown by the shaky leadership of Theresa May and the fact that few Conservative ministers initially wanted to take on the job of post-Brexit referendum Prime Minister in 2016, Brexit has thrown a spanner into the wheel of Britain’s political force.
Many Conservatives still support removing the Northern Ireland Protocol. The Bill to reverse the Northern Ireland protocol, in its second reading in June, had a majority vote in Parliament with no Conservative MPs voting against it. Yet some quietly criticized it, showing that the Conservative MPs were keen to remain on Johnson’s side while he was Prime Minister.
Regardless of who replaces Johnson, the Conservatives are still scrambling to salvage their own careers and distance themselves from Johnson’s tarnished legacy. Johnson’s resignation may just be the start of an arduous process to restore UK-EU relations. It could even take a no-confidence vote against the Conservatives from the opposition Labour Party, or even a general election, to truly define the UK’s political path.
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