24 July 2019
On the day when the new UK Prime Minister formally receives Royal invitation to form a government, our consulting partner, Duncan Fulton, has prepared the following six thoughts about Boris Johnson and his future Premiership.
- Boris won’t behave like a PM – and I don’t mean this is the sense his critics might. As we saw from his leadership acceptance speech earlier, he may take a leaf from the Trump playbook and be in a perpetual campaign mode. He’ll know his job is to sell his vision for Brexit (watch this space) to a deeply divided party, Parliament and public. And he knows, too, that the political arithmetic is against him. He’ll need to do the sales job that was singularly beyond Theresa May’s temperament or competence. He’ll know that ‘steady-as-he-goes’ won’t cut the mustard: the self-proclaimed D(eliver Brexit) U(nite the country) D(efeat Corbyn) E(nergise the country) is being encouraged to ‘be Boris’. Don’t expect him to curb his showman instincts to any great degree, he’ll court controversy rather than shy from it.
- He may have to delay his honeymoon. We are in unprecedented territory (again). Never before has there been a change of leader of a minority government, and rarely can a new PM be taking office with so many of his own MPs publicly set against them – his de facto majority may be close to zero, with the DUP reviewing their confidence and supply arrangement. Nor will the opposition grant him any of the leeway sometimes afforded to a new PM, and a confidence vote may immediately follow his appointment on Wednesday (or soon, and ‘at a time of Labour choosing’, says its beleaguered leader) – although tempering this is to know that what doesn’t kill him will only make him stronger.
- He’s got ambitious domestic plans: in spite of his characterisation Boris not a typical ‘right-winger’. Yes he’s offering the prospect of the hardest of all Brexits (whether he wants that is moot), he’s a liberal on social and domestic policy. He’ll want to open the spending taps, and to offer the country something beyond Brexit. Trouble is getting anything through Parliament. He’ll want to make progress on a totemic domestic policy issue to show his competence as PM. But while we can expect a raft of new (campaign style..) announcements, he’ll have to overcome some big practical and political hurdles before any progress can be made. Nor can Whitehall be expected to embrace Boris, there’s a mutual distrust that may take time to resolve.
- He’ll be challenged from outside too: whether wittingly or not Iran has set a very difficult trap for the new PM. How he navigates the next few days will be significant both for our EU relations and also how we are seen in US eyes. He will need to make a choice – or tread a very delicate diplomatic line – between diverging EU and US views on Iran. The only common ground being a mutual recognition of the need to protect shipping – but even then he’ll need to choose between and EU/Multinational protection force or a US led one.
- As Foreign Secretary he was accessible – and could be effective. Appeals to his political instincts could often circumvent institutional blockages. And in spite of the noises off from many in the FCO who dismayed at his unconventional approach to diplomacy, he was able to develop and exploit relationships and make progress on issues that had been dormant or too difficult for predecessors. He surrounds himself with people he trusts (and likes), and will take their counsel.
- On Brexit he is ‘shackled by a deadlocked Parliament’ as one commentator put it. If the Backdrop is not in the Withdrawal Agreement the EU won’t sign it. If it remains in the Withdrawal Agreement he cannot support it and Parliament will not pass it. Nor will they pass no-deal. So he will need a mandate from either an early General Election or a Second Referendum – both of which he has ruled out. So the question remains which promise will he choose to break? This is the summer his much vaunted political communication skills will be put to the test as never before.
Much to play for, much to speculate on and much to keep us glued to the Westminster bubble! Whatever happens next is not going to be dull.