Boris Johnson
Image Credit: Muhammad Nahas/Gulf News

Well, wasn’t that quite the week in Westminster, with what effectively amounted to a mini constitutional crisis as Boris Johnson was disinclined to resign as the UK’s prime minister until it became clear to him and his cabal of closest advisers that he would be very quickly removed by the Conservatives within hours.

For a man with an ego the size of Johnson, that was a fate worse than death.

As things stand now, an initial field of eight would be replacements is being whittled down to two, with a new party leader — and prime minister — in place by early September. Or sooner, if Labour wins a vote of no confidence in Johnson this week.

So, what of his 35 months in power? His biggest single achievement, he and the party will tell you, was to Get Brexit Done.

That he sure did, one lie at a time — even if it looked for a while last week as if he couldn’t get his own exit done.

The Office for Budget Responsibility, the watchdog that officially oversees UK government spending, reported earlier this year that Brexit is a factor in the nation having the lowest growth rate of the G7 economies.


Right now, that noise you hear are the cheers coming from Brussels and Dublin, where Johnson’s departure has been greeted with more than an element of glee.

Under his stewardship, relations between the European Union and London hit their lowest point. And the relationship between London and Dublin is just as low too — all because of Johnson’s desire to appease Brexiteers who were whipped into an anti-Brussels frenzy by a diet of misspeaks, half-lies and fuzzy facts sold as ironclad truth.

On hearing of Johnson’s resignation, Ireland’s Taoiseach, Micheal Martin, expressed personal sympathy to Johnson but used the moment to call on the government to respect international law and the post-Brexit deal on Northern Ireland. Yes, Johnson is intent on pushing ahead with a law that basically says the “oven ready” Withdrawal Act he negotiated with Europe isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.

The taoiseach suggested the prime minister’s resignation presented an opportunity for a reset.

“While Prime Minister Johnson and I engaged actively together, we didn’t always agree, and the relationship between our governments has been strained and challenged in recent times.”

Anglo-Irish relations plummet

Privately, Irish diplomats have said Anglo-Irish relations have rarely been worse, even going back to the days when Margaret Thatcher was in Downing Street and Charlie Haughey — a politician as lax with the truth then as Johnson is now — was leader of the Irish government.

“Our joint responsibilities concerning stewardship of the Good Friday agreement, as well as nurturing broader bilateral relations between us, require us to work together in a spirit of respect, trust and partnership,” Martin said. “That is more important than ever today, and I would once again urge a pulling back from unilateral action, whether that be on dealing with the legacy of the past, human rights or the Northern Ireland protocol.”

In Brussels, there were similar words, with Michel Bernier, the man who led the EU Brexit negotiations tweeting: “The departure of Boris Johnson opens a new page in relations with the UK. May it be more constructive, more respectful of commitments made, in particular regarding peace & stability in NI, and more friendly with partners in the EU. Because there’s so much more to be done together.”

Perhaps the bluntest assessment came from Sinn Fein leader, Mary Lou McDonald, who said Johnson’s Ireland policies had been “wholly negative” and he would not be missed.

If Johnson won’t be missed, what of his Brexit legacy?

Recent polling in the UK suggests support for Brexit has collapsed — and Johnson’s critics believe he leaves a mess of issues behind rather than the “certainty and stability” that he claimed to have secured 18 months ago in that “oven ready” deal.

Brexit was an error: poll

According to the London School of Economics, the trading relationship between Britain and the world’s third-largest economy of 500 million people on its doorstep has become bogged down in the new red tape. Even the Office for Budget Responsibility, the watchdog that officially oversees UK government spending, reported earlier this year that Brexit is a factor in the nation having the lowest growth rate of the G7 economies.

According to YouGov, every region of the UK now believes Brexit was an error, with 55 per cent of those questioned believing that Brexit has gone badly compared with 33 per cent who say it has gone well.

And while no one is anywhere near suggesting that it’s time to reverse that decision, the reality is that politicians — certainly not Conservative and most likely not Labour — are willing to consider an alternative. Only the Liberal Democrats are suggesting that the UK should rejoin the EU. But a quick economic fix would be to seek membership of the common customs zone.

At a stroke, the issues created by Johnson’s ill-advised Northern Ireland Protocol, as well as any other potential issues over the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland would be solved. British companies would have access to the single market, European goods would move freely into the UK — and the UK would still have control over its immigration policies.

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Georg Riekeles, a close diplomatic adviser to Barnier during the Brexit negotiations, commented recently that Johnson never appeared on top of the details but his decision to disavow the arrangements for Northern Ireland so soon after signing the agreement astonished even the hardest-nosed officials in Brussels.

“He certainly pushed the boundaries of what one could expect a British prime minister to do very, very far,” Riekeles said. “He negotiated, signed an international agreement and had the House of Commons ratify it one day, only to walk back on it the next.”

Now that he’s gone, who has the backbone now to solve the biggest mess he’s leaving behind. Maybe it’s a good thing he was only in Downing Street for 35 months.