Having won the support of 92,153 members of the Conservative Party, Boris Johnson has the privilege of entering 10 Downing Street without having to win an election. The minuscule voting pool didn’t prevent Donald Trump drawing the ridiculous conclusion that Johnson’s victory means Britons like Trump.
"Good man," says Pres Trump of Britain's next Prime Minister Boris Johnson. "He's tough and he's smart," @POTUS tells conservative teen student summit. Says Johnson is known as "Britain's Trump. They like me over there," says @POTUS. pic.twitter.com/8LJfKULMpU
— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) July 23, 2019
Ministers who witnessed the new Tory leader in action as foreign secretary testify to laziness, inattention to detail, contempt for relationships, congenital unseriousness and dangerous indiscretion. Johnson could not be trusted to stay focused in national security briefings, nor to keep their contents secret. A vote last week to obstruct dissolution of parliament in the run-up to the Brexit deadline revealed the low esteem in which he is held, even on his own side. It was a pre-emptive strike, making him the first prime minister to suffer a defeat in the Commons before taking office. Without a dependable majority it isn’t even certain that he satisfies the entry-level constitutional requirement for the job. A flawed character embarks on a perilous journey from a weak position – it is easy to chart the course to failure.
The state of the United Kingdom, a constitutional compact founded in 1922 and stretching back, in one form or another, for centuries, is severely strained. Though Brexit is primarily driven by English passions, two of the four territories in the Union — Northern Ireland and Scotland — voted to remain. Both present immediate problems for Mr. Johnson — and for the future of Britain.
In Scotland, rancor at the sense that the country’s vote counted for little and subsequent repeated bouts of parliamentary chaos have led to renewed calls for a second independence ballot. Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister, insists Scotland will hold one if Brexit takes place. One of the most adroit politicians in Britain, Ms. Sturgeon knows that despite widespread misgivings about Brexit, the majority needed for independence does not currently exist. But recent polling suggests a Johnson government might tilt the scales in her favor. An independent Scotland may be conjured out of the chicanery of Mr. Johnson’s rule.
In Northern Ireland, Mr. Johnson is beholden to the Democratic Unionist Party, a hard-line Northern Irish Protestant party on which he will depend for a majority in Parliament. That severely curtails his room for maneuver as he attempts, one way or the other, to take Britain out of the European Union. The D.U.P. will not countenance separation from the rest of the United Kingdom — hence why the so-called backstop, effectively an insurance plan to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and its southern neighbor, fatally scuttled Theresa May’s thrice-rejected deal. It is hard to see how Mr. Johnson can extricate himself from this problem, whose protraction may have a decisive effect on the country’s internal politics. Calls for a United Ireland, encouraged by demographic change and the waning of unionist sentiment, appear to be gathering more support.
The leave campaign had no more plans for leaving the European Union than a dog chasing a car has to drive it. Now its most prominent spokesman is in charge of making it happen. For the past three years they have been able to claim that only if a true believer were in charge everything would be different. With Johnson in charge they are running out of people to blame for the situation they created. That, of course, will not stop them. But it does expose them.
When Theresa May produced her agreement, Johnson said it was like polishing a turd. He was right. He just failed to acknowledge that it was his turd. Now he finds himself with an unfamiliar task for a man of his pedigree – to clean up after himself.