Attempts to subdue her rival and secure her survival are making Britain a pathetic spectacle for the world.
If ever there was a time when it would be expected that a foreign secretary would resign after making a joke about dead bodies in Libya, it is far from the era in which we live. With Trump and Brexit, the ridiculous stories that may once have seemed laughable are now routine. Yet, still to many it is baffling that Boris Johnson remains in his position as foreign secretary. This is a foreign secretary that has made Britain look foolish on more than one occasion. Johnson had a long history of gaffes and offensive remarks before he took the position but his behaviour has not changed.
In the last week alone it’s been revealed that Johnson made jokes about Libya’s conflict (insinuating too that there’s profit to be made from Libya’s turmoil) and that he had to be stopped from reading a poem romanticising Britain’s imperialism in a temple in Myanmar. Johnson is acting with a flagrant disregard for the position he holds. Britain’s relationships globally are unsure; particularly in the wake of Brexit, but we have a foreign secretary who doesn’t even seem to want to attempt to be respectful to diplomats and audiences around the world. He has become an infamous problem. There are even reports that an ally of Angela Merkel has called upon May to sack Boris.
For global politicians, it may seem ludicrous to keep someone who makes such frequent mistakes in a position of power, much less one where Boris is trusted with meeting foreign diplomats and leaders. Do we really want Boris to be the one who represents us? Is it Boris we want to introduce Brexit-Britain to the globe? Everyone is watching right now to see what the UK will look like as we go through Brexit, and whether we are just trying to turn back time on global progress. Boris is giving no hope to anyone. But politics is often less about policy and more about trying to win internal battles, and the Tories are in their most fraught crisis since they last faced implosion over the question of Europe.
“Is it Boris we want to introduce Brexit-Britain to the globe?”
At the Conservative Party Conference, MPs were reportedly furious with Boris for his conduct overseas and what was seen as attempts to make life even harder for May. There was even a video clip showing Amber Rudd ordering Boris to stand for Theresa May (apparently she was on baby-sitting duty). Politics moves quickly and it’s easy to have a short memory, but May is cautious with all of her actions and Boris is a character she has worked alongside for years. The treatment that Boris received at the 2017 conference was poles a part from the days when he was constantly vexing Cameron. Despite Cameron’s reinvention of the Conservative Party, Boris used to rock up to conferences as though he was the right’s champion and leader in waiting. May will remember how much of a problem he was for the former popular Conservative leader, and Cameron was never as vulnerable as May.
However, Boris has catastrophically miscalculated in recent times. From the decision to back Lave, everything has backfired. The Leave campaign surprised everyone by winning – and the people they shocked the most were themselves. In the immediate days after the result, it was clear that there was never any coherent plan from Leave. Boris seized an opportunity to distance himself from Cameron and appear as a leader in his own right. Had Leave lost as expected, Boris would have had credibility as a leader and would not have been damaged because everyone expected Remain to win. Yet, Boris now looks reckless to critics. There is still resentment in the UK at Brexit, and it risks building as no new positive announcements are made, while we’ve had plenty of bad news with the pound plunging and Monarch going bust. Boris should have ‘disaster’ written all over him. But while Boris may be down, May knows he’s not out.
May’s own popularity is teetering on the edge. The Tories have clearly forgotten the damage the infighting of the Brown years brought Labour and every week there are mutterings about how long May will last, yet without any clear plan to oust her. May’s survival as leader of the Conservatives is dependent upon their being no clear opposition to replace her. To achieve this, she has stifled the threat of Boris.
“May has stifled the threat of Boris”
As a backbench MP, Boris could reinvent himself. He could distance himself from a government that seems no clearer towards making progress on what could (and likely will) be a calamitous Brexit. Boris is also the antithesis to May. The Prime Minister is dubbed ‘the Maybot’ but Boris wins support because while always shy on policy, people think he’s fun. The UK may try to act progressive with its votes, but the bizarre and rising popularity of Rees-Mogg, one of the most extreme right wing MPs there are, shows that the nation does care about personality and arguably at the expense of any credibility. By keeping Boris in the Foreign Office, May is tying Boris to Brexit. Her failings will also be his, as every day when we look to the Cabinet it is easy to be reminded that Boris is in there at all because he was such a prominent figure for the Leave campaign.
The fact he’s specifically in the Foreign Office is another tactic that works in favour of May. When Boris was announced as foreign secretary, many thought it would be a disaster because of Johnson’s past comments. Perhaps that suited May. Each day Boris draws groans and frustration from his own ranks who once saw him as a hero and now see him as a constant disruption in a time when the Tories are desperate for some stability. May has sat back and watched Boris self-destruct. Several years ago, it seemed likely that right wingers would sing for Boris Johnson and embrace him as their leader. Now, the nation sings for Corbyn and the Conservatives are watching the one man they once had hope in become one of their most prominent problems.
Boris may not last forever at the Foreign Office. He may go too far. May could decide that burning bridges overseas isn’t a price worth paying for letting Boris implode. For now though, the UK’s global reputation is being tainted because of Tory rivalries. The world may think we’re fools for keeping Boris but the truth is a lot worse. We’re at the mercy of the Conservative’s power games. All global responsibility has been abandoned.