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Boris Johnson. Picture BLOOMBERG
Boris Johnson. Picture BLOOMBERG

There’s never a dull moment in broken Brexit Britain, especially with prime minister nine-lives Boris at the helm. The number of times I’ve predicted his downfall in this column after a week of shenanigans only for him to escape the chop have convinced me he must have some muti somewhere that’s given him the longevity of a cat (or a Mugabe).

It’s a bit like the end days of Jacob Zuma: just when South Africans thought they must be rid of him at last, like a many-headed hydra in a game of whack-a-mole, he would, unbelievably, resurface once again. 

Earlier this month the prime minister was subjected to a vote of confidence following a litany of new scandals and consequent unheeded calls for him to resign, which he improbably survived. 

Nine-lives Boris may have survived the vote but he did not emerge from it unscathed. The prime minister is severely wounded from the debacle as 41% of his MPs voted against him.

It will be very difficult for Johnson to continue with such a large proportion of the backbench feeling mutinous. He may find it impossible to pass through legislation and continue to hold authority over the Conservative Party while the cost-of-living crisis begins to bite households.

Inflation is at 11% and the food and fuel crisis is expected to continue as a consequence of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The cost-of-living crisis led to mass protests in London on Saturday, and will see rail strikes over three days this week, crippling the economy further. National Health Service workers and teachers are threatening to follow suit and place service delivery in a stranglehold. 

A further point of danger for Johnson this week is the upcoming by-elections in Yorkshire and Devon. Should the Conservative Party lose these seats and individual MPs lose power, backbencher dissatisfaction with the prime minister will spill into outright revolt.

Staff shortage

Johnson is partly being held in power by toadies and sycophantic nobodies who came to power in the 2019 election. The jobs and opportunities promised by Brexit in that election have been shown up as lies, imperilling Conservative rule. 

Now that Covid-19 no longer provides a distraction from the failures of Britain’s exit from the EU, there is a shortage of staff at the airports and restaurants of the enormous service industry. Luggage is piled high at Heathrow while arriving travellers snake around the nation’s airports in hours-long queues. It’s not a good look for one of the world’s richest countries. 

Besides the unravelling of the economy, many decent people — including many Conservatives — are also spooked by  the hollowing out of institutions. Johnson’s ethics tsar, Christopher Geidt, resigned last week, saying in his resignation letter that the prime minister had placed him in an “odious” position.

Among other indignities the prime minister apparently attempted to blame on him, it is turning out that Geidt was alarmed that Johnson’s government apparently plans to intentionally break international law by amending the Northern Ireland protocol. 

The government may also be breaking international law with its morally bankrupt position on refugees. Last week, alongside Geidt’s resignation, high drama ensued as a deportation flight that was scheduled to take asylum seekers to an immigration offshoring centre in Rwanda was stopped at the eleventh hour by the European Court of Human Rights, as the plan is in contravention of the UK’s duties to refugees. The episode has further damaged Britain’s international standing.  

Political forecasting may be a fool’s game, but amid the current cornucopia of governmental disasters I’m going to stick my neck out and say I would be shocked if Johnson is still in 10 Downing Street in 2023. 

• Dr Masie, a former senior editor of the Financial Mail, is chief strategist at IC Publications in London.


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