Boris Johnson Makes One More Bid for Relevance

The foreign secretary breathes new life into all the worst Brexit fantasies in an attempt to undermine Theresa May.

London mayor Boris Johnson poses for a photo, November 24, 2011
London mayor Boris Johnson poses for a photo, November 24, 2011 (i-Images/Andrew Parsons)

When Theresa May named Boris Johnson foreign secretary last year, she wisely took the Brexit and international-trade portfolios away from him. This way, she contained the damage the buffoonish Johnson could do to both British foreign policy and her premiership.

But the former mayor of London’s appetite for higher office and publicity is never satisfied.

This week, he rattled Conservatives with a long opinion piece in The Telegraph (a right-wing newspaper he used to work for) that can only be read as a challenge to May.

Brexit fantasies

The article breathes new life into all the worst Brexit fantasies the pragmatic wing of the Conservative Party has been trying to kill for the last year:

  • That leaving the EU will allow the United Kingdom to spend £350 million more on the National Health Service each week;
  • That Britain will have to pay only a modest “divorce bill” to compensate the EU for withdrawing from its financial obligations; and
  • That post Brexit, the country can have, indeed deserves, unimpeded access to the European single market.

How the remaining 27 member states might feel about these wild promises barely factors into Johnson’s calculation. That was the trouble with his Brexit campaign from the start.

The flaw in Johnson’s argument is obvious: He argues for a “clean” and total separation from the EU, but believes this can be done with minimal disruption.

Opportunist

More damaging to his political prospects is the blatant hypocrisy of it all.

The man who once called himself a social liberal and pro-immigration chose to lead the most illiberal, nativist project in recent British political history in a bid to further his own career.

Johnson tried to appeal to everyone on the right, from tax-cutting Thatcherites to social justice warriors, from Brexiteers to internationalists.

Most of his colleagues now see him for what he is: an opportunist. The few who still support him don’t have the numbers to put him in May’s place.