by Morak Babajide-Alabi
Tuesday last week, the United Kingdom’s Conservative Party announced Boris Johnson as their new leader. Constitutionally, as the leader of the ruling party, Johnson became the Prime Minister. He succeeded Theresa May, who had announced a few months ago that she was resigning from the post. May had laboriously struggled with finding an intervening ground to honour the wishes of the majority of her citizens to get out of the continental European Union (EU). Johnson, the first Foreign Secretary in the May government ceremoniously resigned his post in protest against his principal’s handling of BREXIT.
Apart from his successful role as the Mayor of London, Johnson is reputable for two major things – an ambition to lead the country and a burning desire to get Britain out of the EU. He is identified more with the latter than anything else that could be touted as his lifetime achievement.
Johnson overwhelmingly defeated Jeremy Hunt, his successor in the Foreign Ministry, by a wide margin in an election that cannot be described as a keen contest. This was not a surprise to political observers as they argued that Hunt, though a good Prime Minister material was not going anywhere politically. To the core Tories, Hunt was an unsuitable candidate for the tasks ahead of a leader in this political dispensation. Aside, he was uncharismatic to upturn the populist candidate – Johnson.
The general clamour for Johnson’s leadership among the majority of Tories was high. This was further propelled by the dilly-dallying of the politicians on how to exit the EU. The disillusioned Tories felt there was a need for a new direction to, not only fast track the exit but also reposition their party for future general elections. May’s handling of the BREXIT was believed to be a glorious process of gifting the opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn the Premiership should there be a general election. Many alleged that because May was initially a “Remainer”, she was most times confused on the way forward in the exit labyrinth.
There was a large turnout of pretenders for the Conservative leadership role. It was, however, clear that Johnson would be the anointed Prime Minister. No heavyweight among the contestants could give him a good run for his money. As it is in politics, most of the wannabe leaders have now lined up behind Johnson. The speed at which some of them changed lanes was dramatic. Opponents of yesterday negotiated their ways to the heart of the victorious candidate. Sajid Javid, Dominic Raab, Michael Gove, Andrea Leadsom and the “middle ground” Amber Rudd were soon sucking up to Johnson with a new chant of “the will of the British people on BREXIT must be respected.”
There are three reasons for the new stand – the love of the party, the country and of self. Could we imagine May’s reaction? Some of the new fire-spitting “far-right ministers” were on the same side of history with her when she tried making “it” work. We acknowledge now why she cried as she announced her plans to step down as the leader. The insincerity of the people she trusted was too much. Who could have expected a Minister sacked for allegedly leaking state secrets to make a spectacular return to the government so soon? Strange things do happen, and May would be wiser for this, by now.
Let us not deny Johnson his joy as this is the realisation of a lifelong dream. This is the culmination of his political efforts over the years. He has never, for a moment, hidden his ambition of leading the country and has been a well-choreographed journey to the top. Although along the way he missed his steps many times, he never took his eyes off the prize. Johnson had all his life jostled and shuffled whenever necessary to position himself strategically for the office.
He schemed, planned and established his position on EU. He joined forces with people of similar minds, including Nigel Farage, the far-right extremist, to win the 2016 Referendum. They had clambered together with one aim – to deliver the UK from the grip of the EU. Although the infamous lie of Britain sending £350 million weekly to Brussels as a campaign slogan became a subject of court litigation a while ago. This would haunt the PM for long.
Johnson has signalled the direction of his government. It is hard to miss this if you had been following the hustling and the campaigns for the leadership contest. He repeatedly stated his main preoccupation in office will be to get the UK out of the EU. He also hinted he would be willing to bypass the parliament if need be, to deliver BREXIT. This is hard-core Johnson.
He might come across as boisterous in his comments but do not underestimate the determination of this dishevelled-looking Prime Minister. His choice of ministers and advisers is a warning that he should be taken seriously on BREXIT. In his first speech on the doorstep of 10 Downing Street, he said: “I have every confidence that in 99 days’ time we will have cracked it. But you know what – we aren’t going to wait 99 days, because the British people have had enough of waiting. The time has come to act, to take decisions, to give strong leadership and to change this country for the better.”
Administering the country at this time in history would not be an easy job. The self-inflicted wound, BREXIT, is a sore that has refused to heal. It has cut short the premiership of two impressive politicians – David Cameron and Theresa May. Johnson’s utmost priority presently is to survive the “monster” and ensure history produces an outstanding account of him in this aspect.
Johnson announced what many had interpreted as the overturn of May and Cameron’s police cuts and the inhuman running of immigration. His plans to employ more policemen to patrol the streets and combat the growing crime rate have been hailed as a step in the right direction. On immigration, Johnson wants to introduce the points-based immigration system to attract many highly skilled immigrants into the UK. This would be good music in the ears of citizens from non-EEA countries. They have continuously been subjected to harsh and unfair immigration policies enacted by the governments of May and Cameron.
We do not know the direction of his foreign policies yet. It would be premature to assess him on what he had not announced. But a glimpse of Johnson’s tenure in office as the Foreign Secretary may offer an insight into what the relationship with other continents, especially Africa would be. Not much is there to appraise of his engagement with Africa as the Foreign Secretary.
BREXIT was May’s preoccupation, with little or no thoughts towards Africa. It dawned on her too late that an exit from EU would mean resuscitating the practically dead UK-Africa relationship for a steady flow of British trade. The grand “dancing tour” of the continent last year was a little too late. It was undertaken mainly to spite the EU bureaucrats, call their bluffs as the exit negotiations were going for the rocks.
Optimistically, with Johnson’s threat of a “no-deal”, the African continent would be favoured in new trade relations.
As written for the Diaspora Matters Column, Sunday Vanguard, July 28, 2019.