The new prime minister's first day in office confirms his loose attachment to realityby Jonathan Lis / July 25, 2019 / Leave a comment
Boris Johnson’s first day in Downing Street has confirmed everything we knew and feared about him: a man consumed by his own legend, over-confident in his power, reckless in his ambition and unconcerned by his impact on anyone else. More importantly, it tells us everything we need to know about Brexit under his stewardship. Namely, that it will end in disaster unless parliament—or perhaps the electorate—coalesces to stop him.
Johnson’s speech frequently runs counter to his actions, in Brexit as with everything else. He describes the Irish backstop as “anti-democratic” and declares that no democratic government could approve it, even though he was Foreign Secretary in the government which negotiated the instrument and remained in office for seven months after it was agreed. He condemns Theresa May’s withdrawal deal as “vassalage,” but ultimately voted for it after she tied it to her resignation. But so far as PM, Johnson has paired his rhetoric with decision-making: chiefly in the make-up of his government.
Wednesday’s “night of the long knives” was not only the most brutal Cabinet reshuffle in decades, but probably the most important. Gone was anyone who had crossed Johnson in the past, such as Jeremy Hunt. Nobody survived who might have resisted a catastrophic no-deal crash-out, such as Greg Clark.
Johnson dispatched not only moderates, but true-blooded Leavers. It is extraordinary that Penny Mordaunt, the only prominent female Brexiter left in May’s Cabinet, and one of Johnson’s key Vote Leave colleagues, was deemed insufficiently valuable to remain in office—particularly when she had shown herself to be a capable minister. Johnson is not just unafraid of making powerful enemies; he relishes it. Once again, his swagger suggests a majority of 200, not two, as though his charisma could somehow make up the additional 198.
Johnson has backed up his self-confidence with an incoming cabinet of sychophants. It became clear during the leadership election that this was not to be a prime ministerial cabinet so much as a royal court. His appointments have placed patronage over ability. He has rewarded the wilfully incompetent Priti Patel with a great office of state, while the famously surly and undiplomatic Dominic Raab now becomes the country’s chief representative abroad.
More important than loyalty is zealotry. This is not…