Boris has little time to make an impression. So far, it’s not looking in his favour

The new British Prime Minister will have to face Brexit, separatist movements, potential unrest and possible economic contraction – and that’s just in the next twelve months

Boris Johnson during a visit to Malta. Photo: James Bianchi
Boris Johnson during a visit to Malta. Photo: James Bianchi

Boris Johnson took over the reins of power in the United Kingdom on the 24th July, as had been widely expected. He has long made it clear that he had an interest in becoming Prime Minister at some point, and in her final months as PM, Johnson would have gauged that Theresa May would not remain in 10 Downing Street for much longer. The winds were favourable for Johnson’s elevation to the highest office in the land – but they are less so for him in the long term. Brexit will be what makes or breaks his premiership early on, but it will be the associated repercussions, both political and economic, that will determine the length of his stay in office.

Brexit is currently scheduled for the 31st of October – less than 100 days away. PM Johnson has made it clear that this issue will be his overriding concern for the time being, by throwing several billion pounds at the NHS and Brexit preparations, which is unlikely to be enough to stem the tide of problems that will be cropping up in the case of a no-deal Brexit. However, Johnson’s position does not appear to be fully set in stone yet, as the likelihood of a general election is higher than most would expect at this stage.

The UK has gone through two general elections and a referendum since 2015, and a third general election may well be on the cards, which PM Johnson would hope would shore up his support in Westminster, where he is currently only governing by the grace of a single vote majority in Parliament. At this point, the question is whether he would opt for a general election before, or after the Brexit date (seems more likely to be after, given time constraints). There are benefits and drawbacks of both options, although it does seem likely that he will need to go to the polls sooner rather than later to strengthen his hand in Parliament.

Should he be victorious in this hypothetical general election, and increase the Tory majority (which is by no means a given), Boris Johnson will still face a few problems, not considering the economic impact of a no-deal Brexit – perhaps the most poignant is that of dissatisfaction with the current approach towards relations with the EU by Scotland and some in Northern Ireland. It has been said by some in the media that Johnson may well be the last Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in its current form, comprising of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Should the UK leave without a deal, Scotland is likely to go ahead for another independence referendum in the not too distant future. A hard Brexit would also lead to border checks between Ireland and Northern Ireland, increasing the risk of the type of sectarian violence that had been resolved by the Good Friday Agreements. The new British Prime Minister has made it clear that he does not feel that the so-called Irish backstop agreement, which would effectively keep Northern Ireland in the Customs Union for an undefined period of time, is both unsatisfactory and unnecessary. He’s put the onus of finding an alternative to the Irish backstop on the EU, who have made it clear that they are unwilling to renegotiate the withdrawal agreement. As far as Johnson is concerned it is a stalemate.

Actually, it is not a stalemate. A stalemate implies that both parties are subject to equal repercussions, which is not supported by analysis undertaken by the majority of global economists, policy advisors or government officials. Should the UK leave the EU without a deal, it is expected that British economic growth would slow (the majority of economic forecasts expect a considerable slow down, but vary in their severity) and the pound will weaken. The uncertainty would lead to less business investment and can also impact consumer confidence. In such a scenario, Johnson’s focus may be shifted towards unrest on the Irish border should it erupt, and seeking to dissuade the Scots from leaving the UK.

He has long been considered a caricature of sorts. A bumbling individual who is more cartoonish than most. But this might be Johnson putting on a show for the masses, acting silly to ensure that any gaffes he may make are not taken seriously. After all, he has made it to the highest position in the land, although he has yet to face the electorate to test his popularity. PM Johnson should not be underestimated by any stretch of the imagination, given his ability to climb to the top of the totem pole.

That being said, although he has made it to the top, does not mean that he will be able to stay there. Johnson faces some of the most pressing challenges facing a British Prime Minister in decades. Brexit threatens to disrupt trade, put the brakes on economic growth, and possibly lead to unrest on the Irish border. Any one of these issues would require a steely leader with the vision and iron will to see his or her country through the storm.

To date, his pronouncements have been either vague, or fanciful, such as when he said he was confident that the EU would reopen discussions on the Withdrawal agreement. This looks unlikely to happen, as it would create a precedent for the EU that it may have to face in the future should more countries opt to leave the Union. You can also expect Brussels to play hard ball on refusing any further extensions to the Halloween deadline, with France having already made it clear that the current deadline being the last one they would entertain for the UK, and that the EU27 will need to find a way forward on their own.

10 Downing Street represented the culmination of Johnson’s professional aspiration, along with the UK leaving the EU. However, if he wants to secure his legacy, he will need to foster a sense of common purpose within the UK as a whole, and deliver Brexit whilst balancing the needs of the economy and maintaining public safety on the Irish border. After that, he will have to foster a truly international Britain, which would strike trade deals all over the world, at a time in which a major trade war between the US and China has pushed the importance of trade deals some way down the line.

The new British Prime Minister has a lot on his plate. He will likely face the electorate in the months ahead around the point in which Brexit is delivered. He has very little time to make a very big impression. So far, things do not look in his favour.

More in Blogs