Special Briefing: Can Boris Johnson Save the Brexit He Created?
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
The former mayor of London now has the top job. But what is he going to do with it?
This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.
WHAT TO KNOW
What happened? The former London mayor’s win was all but a foregone conclusion in yesterday’s U.K. leadership contest. Boris Johnson, 55, garnered nearly two-thirds of the vote over Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt in a vote conducted just among the members of the ruling Conservative Party. He takes office today, after the ceremonial approval of Queen Elizabeth II.
Why does it matter? Johnson may have won, but it’s doubt that now rules the day. It’s unclear how the new prime minister, famous for his bluster, will fulfill his campaign promises. Those include renegotiating the Brexit deal (a plan the European Union vocally rejected both before and after Johnson was named PM) … and taking Britain out of the EU with no deal if necessary, a plan that economists largely agree would be financially disastrous for the country. For his part, Hunt had been more openly against a no-deal Brexit but said he would accept it with “a heavy heart.”
HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT
The man himself. Johnson, who’s been accused of being racist and Islamaphobic in the past, is still the most popular figure in the Tory Party, according to YouGov polling. He’s often been compared to U.S. President Donald Trump, with whom he has a warm relationship. He was also one of the main proponents of Brexit, a position he declared in 2016, and was openly critical of the deal with the EU that current Prime Minister Theresa May negotiated (as was the rest of Parliament, which rejected the deal multiple times). Now he’ll be expected to deliver on many optimistic promises he’s made about leaving the EU.
The way forward. Johnson has promised to deliver a no-deal Brexit if necessary. But while the U.K. Parliament has never been clear about what it wants out of Brexit, it’s been relatively united against leaving with no deal, especially since many fear it’ll lead to a recession. Johnson may end up calling a general election, though that risky strategy didn’t pay off for his predecessor, who lost seats in 2017. Johnson’s current majority is just two seats.
No replay. Though May lost seats in 2017, the electoral picture is now quite different. Conservatives and Labour Party members are still polling within a whisker of one another, but each has the support of only about a quarter of the electorate, and the Liberal Democrats and Brexit Party have about 18 percent support each. That means a general election — which Johnson has sworn he won’t hold before Brexit’s deadline of Oct. 31 — could see the Conservative Party lose even the slim majority it currently holds. Also in danger: Johnson’s own parliamentary seat in Uxbridge, which is seeing a strong Labour challenger already laying the groundwork to try to unseat him.
Other options. Parliament is not likely to ratify a deal it’s already rejected several times with no changes, and the U.K. isn’t expected to reopen the terms of the agreement. Other possible but unlikely options include Parliament allowing no-deal to go through, or canceling Brexit altogether — though that would probably enrage the hard Brexiters who put Johnson in power.
WHAT TO READ
We Need the ‘Can Do’ Spirit of 1960s America to Help Us Get Out of the EU, by Boris Johnson in The Telegraph
“There is no task so simple that government cannot overcomplicate if it doesn’t want to do it. And there are few tasks so complex that humanity cannot solve if we have a real sense of mission to pull them off.”
Boris Johnson Is About to Collide With Reality, by the Editorial Board of The New York Times
“His record as journalist, legislator, London mayor and foreign secretary displays far more bluster than achievement, and a consistent disdain for hard work, probity or the truth.”
WHAT TO WATCH
Boris Johnson’s First Speech as Party Leader
“I read in my Financial Times this morning that no incoming leader has ever faced such a daunting set of circumstances.”
Watch on BBC News on YouTube:
Boris Johnson’s Reign as British PM ‘Could Be Colorful and Brief’
“His central motivation in politics is power. When he ran for London mayor, he was cosmopolitan, outgoing and pro-immigration. When he decided to bid for the leadership of the Tory Party, he embraced Brexit.”
Watch on New Zealand’s 1 News on YouTube:
WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER
Nuclear option. Though Johnson has said he won’t call a general election, Parliament, if it hopes to stop a no-deal Brexit, could force one via a vote of no confidence in the government. It would likely require some Conservatives to defect, but would give Johnson 14 days to win back MPs — or face a general election. Depending on the timing, that could mean a general election just days before the scheduled Brexit date.