Britain needs political stability

Whoever succeeds Boris Johnson will have to deal with a number of challenges

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson makes a statement at Downing Street in London, Britain, July 7, 2022.  REUTERS / Henry Nicholls
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The spectacle of Boris Johnson’s torturous political demise has shone a light on the eccentricities of Britain’s political system. From Monday night until this morning – when it was revealed that he intends finally to stand down as Prime Minister – the airwaves were punctuated with ministerial resignation after resignation as his government was gradually reduced to its bare bones. With Mr Johnson standing firm and refusing to go, the Conservative Party’s archaic-sounding 1922 Committee of MPs was mobilised to make him see sense. There was even talk of Queen Elizabeth having the final say on whether or not he stayed at 10, Downing Street. Britain appeared locked in a constitutional quagmire: stuck with a Prime Minister nobody wanted but nobody could get rid of.

Now, this was hardly a January 6 moment. There was no violent march on the Houses of Parliament. And Mr Johnson gave a (mostly) gracious farewell speech this afternoon, the like of which we are yet to hear from Donald Trump.

But it is important to remember just how unedifying the last few days have been – and not just for the UK but also the rest of the world. Britain still plays a key role on the global stage. Mr Johnson himself demonstrated this with his muscular engagement with the Ukraine crisis and enthusiastic attendance of the recent G7 and Nato summits. Britain may no longer be a member of the EU, but if anything this has strengthened its relationships with the rest of the world as it seeks to forge new trade deals of its own – not least in the Middle East. The world needs a British prime minister to be focused on the job, not on his survival.

This is one of many reasons his announcement was largely welcomed yesterday. But Britain is not yet out of the woods. Mr Johnson intends to continue as caretaker prime minister until the Conservative Party has chosen a new leader, which could take months. Either he will be a lame duck leader or he will risk provoking yet more anger by acting as if it’s business as usual when he no longer has any constitutional right to govern his country. Neither outcome is appealing.

These are challenging times for Britain. It is still recovering from the impact of Covid-19. Inflation is soaring. Family budgets are under strain. The government has a Hobson’s Choice to make between prioritising expenditure – to help those in need – or economy – to help fight inflation and protect public finances. A period of political stability after months of turmoil is required to make such difficult decisions.

And that’s just the short term. The early signs are that Britain’s exit from the EU has caused additional damage to its economy. Britain’s next leader – whoever he or she turns out to be – has to improve trading relationships with the rest of the world to make up for the business that has been lost in the EU. Plus there’s Ukraine, the ageing population, climate change. The sooner British politics can go back to being boring, the better.

Published: July 07, 2022, 1:31 PM