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Boris Johnson’s legacy

Boris Johnson’s legacy

Boris Johnson has quit after losing the confidence of his parliamentary party and squandering an 80 seat majority in less than three years. What did he achieve in that time?

“I want you to know how sad I am to be giving up the best job in the world, but them’s the breaks.”

Boris Johnson, BBC News

Boris Johnson has squandered an 80 seat majority in less than three years. What’s his legacy?

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“The doubters, the doomsters, the gloomsters – they are going to get it wrong again. The people who bet against Britain are going to lose their shirts, because we are going to restore trust in our democracy.”

Boris Johnson, BBC news

The words of Boris Johnson on the day he became prime minister in July 2019, after winning a contest to replace Theresa May as leader of the Conservative Party.

Months later, in an effort to break the ongoing Brexit gridlock in parliament, he called an election and won the biggest Conservative majority in 30 years

“Let’s unite this country. Let’s spread opportunity to every corner of the UK with superb education, superb infrastructure, and technology. Let’s get Brexit done, but first let’s get breakfast done.”

Boris Johnson, Channel 4 News

Two weeks ago Boris Johnson was talking of a second, and even a third term as prime minister, but in the end his premiership turned out to be one of the shortest in British history. 

“The reason I’ve fought so hard in the last few days to continue to deliver that mandate in person was not just because I wanted to do so, but because I felt it was my job, my duty, my obligation to you, to continue to do what we promised in 2019. And of course I’m immensely proud of the achievements of this government.” 

Boris Johnson, BBC News

So what are those achievements and what will he leave behind?

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Boris Johnson was elected on a promise to get Brexit done and level-up the country. 

And he did, in the most basic sense, get Brexit done. His majority allowed him to take the UK out of the European Union almost 4 years after the country voted to leave.

But like levelling-up, his vision to rebalance the British economy, it was never entirely clear whether it had been thought through beyond the slogans.

And then this happened

“Two patients from the same family in England have tested positive for coronavirus. The first cases to be recorded in Britain.”

BBC News

That was on the 31st of January 2020.

Over the coming weeks Boris Johnson resisted calls to lockdown the country, until it eventually became inevitable

“From this evening I must give the British people a very simple instruction: you must stay at home.”

Boris Johnson, BBC News

The virus nearly killed him, and led to the deaths of more than 180,000 people in the UK, some of whom might have been saved by a more nimble government response.

But Boris Johnson can claim credit for the swift rollout of the vaccine that eventually saved lives and provided a route out of two years of on-off restrictions.

During that time though, his political project, or what there was of it, had to be put on hold.

Here’s former Brexit secretary David Davis talking to Andrew Neil on his Tortoise podcast, The Backstory

David Davis: “Part of this is not his fault. When I voted for Boris to be leader, I did not foresee Covid.”

Andrew Neil: “No one did.”

David Davis: “No, but that’s quite important because that Covid period sort of blotted out government. It probably shouldn’t have but it did and the result of which is we had sort of forgotten what our aims were… All they had the bandwidth for frankly was picking up pieces on Covid and picking up pieces on Brexit, not even driving Brexit forward, so there was a sort of losing the way I think.”

The Backstory

And what he had to do to get Brexit done was compromise. That came in the form of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which he’s since failed to honour.

In its current form it’s paralysed devolved government in Northern Ireland and jeopardised the Good Friday Agreement that ended the Troubles.

Brexit also revived the Scottish National Party’s drive for a second independence referendum because 62 percent of Scots didn’t want to leave the EU.

Boris Johnson leaves the UK less united than it has been in centuries.

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Johnsonism, as far as it can be defined, was about projecting an optimistic vision for the country.

Here’s Charles Moore, the former editor of the Daily Telegraph and Spectator who once employed Boris Johnson, talking to Andrew Neil

Charles Moore: “He has great communicative gifts and imaginative gifts and a way of making people feel good about things rather than bad about things. These are all actually very rare gifts and they’re essential gifts of leadership at all times in history and particularly in modern times because of modern communications. So it’s a sort of transformative thing and it’s an act.”

The Backstory

But the problem was always that it lacked substance. It was, in many ways, an act.

His unwillingness to respect the rules meant he damaged public trust through Partygate, his defence of an MP who broke lobbying rules, and his appointment of a minister who had  been accused of sexual misconduct.

Boris Johnson is responsible for his own downfall, but even when accepting defeat he still tried to deflect the blame

“It’s painful not to be able to see through so many ideas and projects myself. But as we have seen at Westminster the herd instinct is powerful and when the herd moves, it moves. And my friends, in politics no-one is remotely indispensable. And our brilliant and Darwinian system will produce another leader, equally committed to helping the country through tough times.”

Boris Johnson, BBC News

That new prime minister will have to pick up the pieces of an economy rocked by Covid, the war in Ukraine – and Boris Johnson’s only concrete legacy – Brexit.

Today’s episode was written by Lewis Vickers and mixed by Ella Hill.