Former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he will not be standing to lead the country again, implicitly stating the governing Conservative Party is ungovernable as things presently stand.
While Boris Johnson never officially declared he was standing to become the next leader of the Conservative Party, and hence in accordance with the British constitution and makeup of Parliament — which the Conservatives control by a considerable majority — the next Prime Minister, it was clear he was. The former Prime Minister had flown back to the UK in the middle of a foreign holiday in the aftermath of Liz Truss resigning, and top ally Jacob Rees-Mogg was running a campaign for him, with dozens of colleagues publicly giving him their backing.
While speculation was rife over whether Boris would hit the unusually high threshold of 100 Parliamentary colleagues by the deadline of Monday lunchtime — it seemed likely, all things told, that he would make the cut behind Rishi Sunak — it is now academic, with Johnson having publicly ruled himself out of the race.
Speaking out on his own behalf for the first time in the short campaign Boris claimed he had achieved 102 confirmed backers but had concluded it would be pointless to try and win the leadership now, remarking “You can’t govern effectively unless you have a united party in parliament.”
Whether this is in fact a dignified early exit from a seasoned political player who can see he risks losing the leadership election and with it destroying his chance of ever being Prime Minister again, or whether this is motivated as stated by the condition of the Conservative Party, it is hard to disagree with Johnson’s key analysis.
After all, the Conservative Party is now only seven weeks beyond its last leadership election, when it selected Liz Truss. Despite Truss being an extremely milquetoast conservative, a very modest pro-free-market reformer whose tax-cutting-plan’s ambition barely went beyond putting things back to how they were in recent memory, the party has still spent her whole leadership tearing itself apart in opposition to these reforms, and her personally.
The fact is, things as they are now, with the Parliamentary Party overwhelmingly backing Rishi Sunak but the Conservative Party members in the country at large favouring the second-placed candidate closely echoes the last election. Then, Suank came first and Truss second with the party elite, but Truss won out on membership votes. This time, it looks like Sunak will again come first in parliament but the second-placer Boris will win with the country.
Given how violently the Parliamentary party reacted to having Truss forced on it by the membership, you can only imagine the open war in Parliament should Boris have won.
Hence Johnson’s implicit admission that the Conservative Party is now ungovernable: “You can’t govern effectively unless you have a united party in parliament”. It’s the same conclusion 1990-1997 Prime Minister John Major reached at the end of his time in power, the famous ‘broad tent’ party simply didn’t want to cooperate with itself any more. Having been in power so long, presumably, the Conservatives had simply forgotten what being in opposition means.
Johnson withdrawing now means, with almost certainty, a ‘coronation’ for Rishi Sunak without any further selection or voting as Prime Minister tomorrow. The only way to foresee this not taking place is if the Boris-supporting crowd — assuming he really did have the 100+ support claimed — move as a bloc to one single other candidate.
Anything is possible and British politics is presently moving at a speed you would hitherto be hard-pressed to believe possible. But going by what’s most likely, Rishi Sunak could be Prime Minister by dinner time tomorrow.
Boris Johnson’s statement in full: