It has been suggested that Boris Johnson (who became the prime minister of the United Kingdom on July 24) is what one gets if Donald Trump had been educated at Eton and Oxford. There is such a thing as a national style, and Trump’s shtick would fail as badly in UK as Johnson’s would in the United States of America. But questions of style aside, the two men are almost identical. They are both inveterate, shameless liars. They are both what lay people call narcissists and the experts call ‘sociopaths’: men (they are mostly men) who accumulate numerous wives, girlfriends and children as they go through life, but never really engage with anybody. And neither of them has any real purpose in politics.
What Trump and Johnson conspicuously lack is a set of objectives that goes beyond merely winning and keeping power. Trump’s determination to expunge every trace of Barack Obama’s legacy gives him a kind of agenda, but an entirely negative one. Johnson doesn’t even have that. His only role in British politics is to save the Conservative Party by ‘delivering’ Brexit. Johnson wouldn’t be in Downing Street today if there had not been an election in Britain two months ago. It was only an election for the European Parliament, but Britain had to vote in it because it still hadn’t left the European Union in spite of two postponements.
The EU election did, however, give British voters an opportunity to express their views on Brexit, and it was catastrophic for the Conservatives. On the whole, the vote split pretty evenly between pro-Leave and pro-Remain parties, but the Conservatives came fifth, behind the Greens and just ahead of the Monster Raving Loony Party. This triggered panic at Conservative headquarters; their traditional voters are mostly Leavers, and they are so angry at their party for failing to get the job done, three full years after the referendum, that they are abandoning it for Nigel Farage’s newly formed Brexit Party. If there is a national election in the UK, the Conservatives will be wiped out — and given the deadlock in Parliament, an early election is quite likely.
So where’s Boris when we need him? We know that he’s lazy, feckless, insanely ambitious, utterly unprincipled and liable to make huge mistakes, but we desperately need to rally the troops and he’s the one they love. Boris generously agreed to help the Party out, so they unceremoniously dumped Theresa May and set up a contest for a new party leader that Johnson was bound to win. That automatically made him prime minister as well, but he may be the last prime minister of a genuinely united kingdom.
Johnson can only succeed by taking Britain out of the EU by October 31. He swears that he can get a better exit deal than Theresa May (which Parliament rejected thrice), but the EU says no further negotiations are possible. He could try the traditional remedy of shouting loudly at them in English, but it may not succeed. If that doesn’t work, he says he’ll take the UK out of the EU anyway, without a deal. That would inflict serious economic hardship on the British population, but true Brexiters reckon that’s a small price to pay for leaving an organization they detest. Half the English population doesn’t agree — and two-thirds of the Scots voted Remain.
If a largely English government drags the UK out of the EU and into economic misery, then the Scots will probably decide to leave the UK and stay in the EU. The Scottish National Party is already promising another referendum on the question. So there’s rather a lot at stake, including the 300-year-old Union, and the man in charge is the farthest thing imaginable from a safe pair of hands. “Boris is the life... of the party, but he’s not the man you want driving you home at the end of the evening,” as minister for women and equalities, Amber Rudd, put it.
If Parliament can stop Johnson from doing a no-deal Brexit, of course, then none of this comes to pass. But it’s not at all certain that Parliament can do that. The British are living in interesting times.