It is perhaps no coincidence that two leaders of two different nations, committed to themselves more than democracy, have not accepted defeat easily. And just as US President Donald Trump flirted with holding on to power despite the defeat at the hustings, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson too buried his head in the sand as 44 resignations came in from seniors and others in his government.
Johnson, who does fit the stereotype of the privileged British schoolboy quirky neck tie et al, has said that it would not be ‘responsible’ for him to leave office. Citing economic pressures and of course the war in Ukraine he has told senior MPs that it just would not be right for him to ‘walk away’. And when questioned repeatedly by the Commons Liason Committee he said that he would not call a snap elections, and that polls were as far away as 2024.
But he could not survive more than 24 hours as the wheels of democracy kicked in. And it was clear that with the Tory rebellion, as some called it, he had no leg to stand on. And could not keep speaking of the popular vote to justify his initial decision not to leave office.
That Johnson’s erstwhile colleagues have been facing flak for supporting the PM is evident with the resignations coming in like falling skittles. The mood of ‘enough is enough” has several Tory leaders leaving the government, and calling for him to resign. A group of ministers met Johnson and asked him to quit. He responded by sacking Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Secretary Michael Gove. In fact sources from 10 Downing Street told the media less than a day ago that Gove is a “snake” and that Johnson will “fight on.”
In the midst of this came the first ever joint press conference of the US FBI and UK’s MI-5 with China as the target. This basically feds into the nationalist threat perceptions with Biden supporting Johnson who has linked his survival to the external dimensions of war and threats. Even though internally his term in office has not been particularly glorious, although certainly very eventful. In that he has faced the ire of Parliament almost continuously but survived, till now, every rule in the book.
Independent media in the UK has described his tenure as “disastrous” and his insistence on remaining in power a direct challenge to democracy. It is true that Boris Johnson has shown scant respect for public opinion since the elections, has been dismissive of the Labour party opposition caught in its own internal wars, and now even though for just a day or so criticism and demands for resignation from his own Ministers. His initial response was the one sacking, and a source based assertion that there is no reason for him to leave.
His effort now will be to push on and somehow stay as Prime Minister until autumn when the new Conservative leader is elected. However, those who asked for his resignation do not seem to be in a mood to allow this and he will face intense pressure to resign as PM and allow a caretaker leader to take over. Two names in circulation seem to be that of deputy prime minister Dominic Raab and Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May.
Johnson’s exit follows a steady three years of scandals. There will not be many wet eyes in England when he bids goodbye, having become a figure of ridicule and much controversy. He has damaged the Conservatives, although this in itself has not strengthened the Labour Party. UK is entering an uncertain period but no more than it was when Boris Johnson was in place as the Prime Minister.