Party well and truly over for Britain’s worst prime minister
Boris Johnson has always had a fundamentally problematic relationship with the truth. Lies, cheating and obfuscation ooze from him like water, so it was always predictable that he would ultimately face being brought down by a lie that was too flagrant even for him to get away with.
The “Partygate” saga has been British politics at its most unedifying, with Boris at each juncture blurting out whatever untruths he thought he could get away with about why he and his staff were holding boozy parties — including one notorious alcohol-soaked event on the eve of Queen Elizabeth’s lonely funeral for her husband — while other people’s elderly relatives were forced to die alone because of COVID-19 regulations. This labyrinthine web of deceit and dissembling included the prime minister’s excruciating appearance in the House of Commons last week to offer an apology that wasn’t an apology for his attendance at a party that he hadn’t realized was a party – at his own home!
Johnson’s skeleton-littered path to Downing Street took shape after he stabbed Prime Minister David Cameron in the back by spearheading the 2016 Brexit campaign, which must go down in history as the largest barrage of lies ever fired at the British public: Brexit would be quick, painless and glorious, and would usher in an era of prosperity, sovereignty and hope for the UK. If only!
In 2019, Johnson elbowed his predecessor Theresa May out with his pledge to “Get Brexit done,” acting in tandem with Machiavellian political knife-fighter Dominic Cummings — who, since his dismissal in 2020, has reserved his sharpest knives for Boris) Their “vision” turned out to be the most brutal of all possible Brexits, with consequences that have been ruinous for British farmers, fishermen, food producers and domestic industry. British dairy and meat products took a 30-40 percent hit in early 2021, with a new swath of regulations and bureaucracy to be introduced at the beginning of 2022 likely to be even more devastating for businesses exporting to the EU, previously the destination for over 60 percent of British food exports. Disingenuous dealing by Boris’s officials over Northern Ireland has exacerbated sectarian tensions that ultimately threaten to tear the UK apart.
For all his sloganeering about “global Britain,” foreign policy under Johnson came straight from the Trump playbook: Steadfast non-engagement with international challenges, in tandem with ever-harsher measures to shut out millions of refugees, resulting from the international community’s abandonment of its conflict resolution role and failure to police international law in the face of genocide and crimes against humanity.
Johnson lied that folding the Department for International Development into the Foreign Office would not affect Britain’s aid commitments — and promptly slashed development aid by upwards of 60 percent to some of the poorest states in the world, leaving countless numbers to starve. During his own 2016-18 tenure as foreign secretary, Johnson proved wholly disinterested in foreign affairs, while plotting his next promotion.
By calculatedly disassociating Britain’s foreign policy and human rights architecture from that of the EU, British diplomacy has become a bad joke. Instead of taking united stands on principled issues as part of a community of nations, Britain is left to grandstand alone — which often means that UK positions on human rights play second fiddle to craven efforts to seek trade deals. Even when Britain gets it right, it becomes highly vulnerable to pressure, such as a recent statement from Britain’s Ambassador to Tripoli that Libyan politicians tripped over themselves to condemn in the strongest terms as neo-imperialist interference. The unmistakeable impression is that Boris’s “Global Britain” scarcely knows or cares what goes on beyond its shores.
At home, with little in the way of domestic vision, Boris sought to rouse his reactionary grassroots with full-on cultural warfare, a repulsive reversal of his predecessors’ efforts to make the Conservatives more diverse, moderate and forward-looking. This “war on woke” culminated in a bizarre campaign in support of the statue of a wealthy 17th-century slave trader, felled by anti-racism protesters in an echo of campaigns against symbols of a racist past in Trump’s America.
Britain has had many hapless and disgraced prime ministers, but none before Johnson has so spectacularly failed to respect the gravity of the office, or be so unsuited to the rigors and intellectual challenges it presents. Psychologically, Johnson proved wholly unprepared for the COVID pandemic; he failed to appreciate the scale of the threat and continually delayed the imposition of measures until infection rates were far advanced, resulting in Britain’s exceptionally high death rate. “Let the bodies pile up,” he declared at one point when facing pressure to take renewed action.
Britain has had many hapless and disgraced prime ministers, but none before Johnson has so spectacularly failed to respect the gravity of the office.
This shame-proof prime minister has survived numerous political scandals. However, with public support cratering, recent events augur the beginning of the end for his premiership. Conservative MPs had backed him as the most promising vote-winner in their party, mistaking his bumbling, clownish demeanor for charisma. But in a party known for ruthless shifts in loyalties, a critical mass of politicians are turning away from Boris’s increasingly toxic brand.
On international issues, Britain has traditionally sailed alongside the US, but the chronic dysfunction in American politics further renders it problematic for the UK to correct its course on the sea of world affairs. Even after Britain does rid itself of Boris, few easy solutions present themselves. There is scant political appetite for reopening the deep, festering wound of Brexit, although compromises with the EU may gradually be sought to repair some of the economic damage.
After five years of doggedly pursuing the Brexit cul-de-sac, Boris’s plague-stricken, friendless, and economically battered Britain is an introverted and isolated place, with a long distance to travel before rediscovering any conceivable form of global role.
- Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.