For some, yesterday’s Cabinet resignations were moments of patriotism, of extraordinary heroism and political excellence. They have earned applause from ardent Brexiteers like Nigel Farage (“Now can we please get rid of the appalling Theresa May and get Brexit back on track,” he adds) for standing up for what Brexit voters all want, apparently: a proper Brexit.
Regardless of anyone’s position on Brexit, Boris Johnson should have been removed from his the position of Foreign Secretary ages ago. In fact, maybe he ought never had been given the job at all. He is treated as a fool by EU officials, foreign dignitaries and even by members of his own party. As a representative for Britain on the world stage, he repeatedly lets the country and its citizens down.
We tolerated Johnson when he was Mayor of London: we laughed at this spluttering, gaffe-prone Old Etonian as he dangled from a zipwire in a suit, tie and Union Jack helmet, or confidently wittering on about the return of “wiff waff” (“table tennis” to commoners like us) to the UK. Johnson became a caricature whose blunders and questionable comments were part of the act.
But, given a position in the Government and plenty of scrutiny has shown that Johnson’s ways are unbecoming of his status. A Foreign Secretary who makes careless utterances in holy sites and lengthens the time of imprisonment of a British citizen abroad is not fit for his role. Only last week did Johnson, who told his constituents that he would “lie down in front of the bulldozers” that would make room for a third Heathrow runway, disappear to Kabul for a short meeting on the day that the matter went to a House of Commons vote.
Johnson is committed only to a select number of causes, one of them being his own self-advancement. Most other things, whether they matter to voters or not, aren’t of much importance. “F**k business,” he is reported to have said when asked about the implications for businesses after Brexit. Arguably the most high-profile Conservative MP to advocate withdrawal from the European Union, he was one of the first to stumble when voters asked about that £350,000,000-a-week that would go to the NHS after Brexit.
Voters long for authentic figures. They delight at seeing politicians who stand out from the crowd in what they say, how they say it and what they do. That’s why they enjoy the antics of Johnson and Rees-Mogg, or Farage, Corbyn, McDonnell and even Cable. But Johnson’s idiosyncrasies have neither translated into good governance nor have been contained by sensible actors within the party. He has been allowed to run riot while speaking on behalf of the UK abroad.
Boris Johnson has managed to hold onto his role for too long and exit at his leisure. His resignation was not forced, neither by the will of the Prime Minister nor the anger of his voters. He chose to leave and to do so at a moment of extraordinary political importance, doing maximum damage to the Prime Minister’s authority and ensuring that he or his allies are still within reach of occupying a Downing Street residence. Now, to Brexiteers, he will go down a hero, a brave politician who put “the will of the people” first.
The clown is no longer funny. The position of Foreign Secretary be the last position of political prominence that Boris Johnson holds. Neither Theresa May nor whoever next dwells at 10 Downing Street should return him to the Cabinet.