Boris Johnson’s departure is long overdue


If there was ever a time when the UK needed capable and trustworthy leadership, it’s now. Inflation is on track to reach 11%; millions of people worry about their ability to make ends meet. Labor unrest is spreading. Sterling slips. A war is raging in Europe. However, mired in the scandals around its leader, the government of Boris Johnson has been able for months to deliver only drift and disarray. After his health secretary and chancellor resigned, others followed in droves and several ministers told him he had to go. The Johnson era is coming to an end. It would have been better for the country if it had ended months ago.

Those beyond Britain’s shores may be puzzled by what could appear to be a paltry indictment of the Prime Minister. But a series of incidents demonstrated a complete disregard for the rules and the truth. This is a prime minister who has now revealed he appointed a fellow loyalist to a sensitive post in party discipline, despite knowing that a sexual misconduct allegation had been made against his appointee. Ministers were sent to tell what turned out to be lies on Johnson’s behalf.

It’s about a Prime Minister who allowed an illegal party culture to Downing Street when his country was locked down during a global pandemic – and was himself fined by police for attending a rally . Yet he repeatedly assured parliament that no regulations had been breached.

In affairs of state, he is a leader who has behaved a little more honourably. He sought to circumvent constitutional conventions and overturn part of the exit deal he himself negotiated with the EU. This willingness to break international law has undermined the UK’s reputation, undermining the positive impact of the leadership Johnson has shown in support of Ukraine.

As trust in the prime minister has declined, the government’s ability to govern has also declined. After emerging from two years of pandemic, instead of moving forward with a cohesive policy agenda and effectively dealing with the worst pressure on the cost of living in a generation, Johnson’s cabinet has spent months to fight fires, crisis after crisis. And as the Prime Minister’s support base has shrunk, he has found himself severely in thrall to the right wing of his party. This wing has applauded hints of tax cuts by Johnson’s new chancellor, Nadhim Zahawi, although his predecessor, Rishi Sunak, is rightly worried about inflationary risks.

Sunak’s resignation letter warned of fundamental differences of approach with the prime minister, but spoke of the need for the government to be run “correctly, competently and seriously”. Sajid Javid, who resigned as health secretary, used similar words – and told parliament he could no longer walk the ‘tight line between loyalty and integrity’. Their statements appear to have finally galvanized the feeling within their party that, despite his narrow victory in a confidence vote and his desperation, Johnson must go.

The qualities to be expected from a successor are integrity and respect for rules and the law, a more pragmatic and serious approach to the EU — including abandoning disregard for international treaties — and a willingness to tackle responsibly and decisively to the economic challenges facing the UK. Several of the potential candidates do not meet at least some of these parameters. But the sad state of the current government means that a change of Prime Minister can no longer be postponed.

Setting that process in motion now means a new leader could be in place for the new legislature in September. This is the right path for the Conservative Party and the government. It is above all the right path for the country.

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