Prime Minister Boris Johnson resigned as Conservative Party leader on July 7, but is not out of power. Characteristically, he seems to be maneuvering to cling to office as head of the British government as long as he can.
Johnson acknowledged the need to step down, without actually using those words, and said nothing about growing ethics scandals swirling around him. Instead, he boasted of great accomplishment in government, and indicated this requires him to remain during the transition.
Through July 6, Johnson had insisted there was no way he would step down. He felt himself indispensable and his government success undeniable. This separation from reality, self-praise in the face of general outrage, is remarkably similar to the behavior of Donald Trump.
In fact, the special relationship between the United Kingdom (Britain plus Northern Ireland) and the United States involves important, often fascinating, at times vital, interplay between the leaders of the two nations.
The final straw that broke the back of Conservative support for their colorful leader was clear evidence of breaking pandemic rules. Photos showed he and others in the government participated in parties prohibited by their own COVID-19 restrictions.
On this matter and others, Johnson has been rather casual in handling the truth. In other words, he is a liar. To the British, lying in Parliament is intolerable, no exceptions.
Nearly 60 members of Johnson’s government, almost half, have resigned in protest of this behavior. Last month, Johnson survived a vote of no confidence in the House of Commons, but nearly 40% of his own party voted against him. Only the massive parliamentary majority secured by Conservatives in the December 2019 general election saved him.
The Conservatives have also done badly in recent by-elections, for individual vacant seats in the House of Commons, and local elections in May. The Liberal Democrats made major gains, and the Labour Party remains strong.
Professor Sir John Curtice of Strathclyde University in Scotland is insightful and influential. His analysis for the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) emphasized the Liberal Democrats’ success.
Northern Ireland has also witnessed significant shifts. Sinn Fein, the nationalist party that seeks a break from Britain and unification with Ireland, in May elections led voting for the first time. This means further separatist pressure on the British government.
Low-key, conscientious Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May succeeded David Cameron in 2016, after surprise defeat of his referendum aimed at remaining in the European Union. She negotiated complex withdrawal accords with the Eurocrats in Brussels, only to face rejection three times in Parliament, including in her own party.
Finally, Good Citizen May was replaced by Bombastic Boris Johnson, who rushed through general leave-Europe legislation, postponing details. The eventual cost included renewed conflict in Northern Ireland, but Britain left the EU. Now, the brazen irresponsible Johnson approach of leaving Europe without addressing essential details is causing growing trade and investment problems, especially for Northern Ireland.
Increasing numbers of people back the Liberal Democrats precisely because they generally remain separate from the established Conservative and Labour parties that dominated politics through most of the 20th century. The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government from 2010 to 2015 ultimately hurt the latter.
In Britain, Johnson will soon be gone, even if kicking and screaming while being hauled away. Throughout, the nation remains a leader in combining representative government with essentially stable institutions.
Arthur I. Cyr is author of “After the Cold War – American Foreign Policy, Europe and Asia” and “Liberal Politics in Britain.” Contact firstname.lastname@example.org