Here’s what Boris Johnson’s leadership drop-out statement really means

Here’s what Boris Johnson’s leadership drop-out statement really means
Boris Johnson ends bid to return as UK’s next prime minister
The Independent

“Magnanimous” and “selfless” aren’t adjectives usually ascribed to Boris Johnson, but that’s what he’d have you call him now that he’s bowed out of the Tory leadership race.

The former PM was threatening a second term in Number 10, dashing back to Westminster from a two-week jolly in the Caribbean to apparently throw his hat into the ring.

But on Sunday night, in a major plot twist, he instead dashed the hopes of his loyal fans, announcing that he wouldn’t be standing for the top job after all.

Sign up to our new free Indy100 weekly newsletter

His decidedly Trump-like statement is all about how great he’d be if he were to take up the post again but that his commitment to the “national interest” has forced him to concede.

Here, we break down his self-aggrandising monologue in full, and analyse what it’s really all about.

Let’s start with the first half…

“In the last few days I have been overwhelmed by the number of people who suggested that I should once again contest the Conservative Party leadership, both among the public and among friends and colleagues in Parliament.

“I have been attracted because I led our party into a massive election victory less than three years ago – and I believe I am therefore uniquely placed to avert a general election now.

“A general election would be a further disastrous distraction just when the Government must focus on the economic pressures faced by families across the country.

“I believe I am well placed to deliver a Conservative victory in 2024 – and tonight I can confirm that I have cleared the very high hurdle of 102 nominations, including a proposer and a seconder, and I could put my nomination in tomorrow.

“There is a very good chance that I would be successful in the election with Conservative Party members – and that I could indeed be back in Downing Street on Friday.”

The Johnson camp would have had us all believe that the disgraced ex-leader was a firm favourite among just about everyone, proudly reporting that he’d firmly secured the 100 votes needed to make it onto the leadership ballot.

The problem is… the number of publicly-declared Johnson supporters didn’t come close to the 102 he claims here. So could he really have been “back in Downing Street on Friday”?

Numerous commentators, and even key allies, including The Telegraph’s Charles Moore, have agreed that no, he couldn’t have. One minister reportedly told ITV’s Robert Peston that the former PM didn’t even have enough support to fill a Cabinet. Let’s not forget, a new Prime Minister comes with a new gaggle of ministers, and if you can’t find the right calibre of people to fill some of the most important jobs in the country, you’re in trouble. Although, to be fair, that didn’t seem to bother him too much last time.

Now, Johnson’s boast that he led his party into a “massive election victory” less than three years ago may be true, but they’ve been some pretty jam-packed three years. We’ve seen a global pandemic hit, an illegal war launched in Ukraine, and his beloved Brexit is still not “done”, so comparing now and then is really like apples and oranges.

Let’s also not forget why the Uxbridge MP is no longer Prime Minister: a series of scandals including partygate, wallpaper-gate and breaching lockdown restrictions. So why someone who provoked so much anger and disappointment thinks he’s “therefore uniquely placed to avert a general election now” is about as unclear as his grasp of basic rules.

Not only that, but Johnson is currently facing an inquiry into whether he lied to the over the partygate scandal, for which he was fined by police.

If found guilty by the Commons Privileges Committee, he could face recall proceedings that could see him suspended. If this suspension were to be for 10 days or more he would be left battling for his very seat as an MP.

If this all went down just after he had been reinstated as PM it truly would be beyond farce. Leadership race number three before the end of the year, anyone? We thought not.

Let’s move on to part two...

But in the course of the last days I have sadly come to the conclusion that this would simply not be the right thing to do. You can’t govern effectively unless you have a united party in parliament.

“And though I have reached out to both Rishi (Sunak) and Penny (Mordaunt) – because I hoped that we could come together in the national interest – we have sadly not been able to work out a way of doing this.

“Therefore I am afraid the best thing is that I do not allow my nomination to go forward and commit my support to whoever succeeds.

“I believe I have much to offer but I am afraid that this is simply not the right time.”

Even from Johnson we were stunned to see such shameless under-the-bus throwing of two former colleagues. The irony of declaring the importance of “uniting” the party and then, in the next sentence, trying to sew the seeds of discord is pretty dazzling.

One of the main obstacles faced by Sunak, the frontrunner in the race, is how to overcome the accusations of disloyalty levelled at him by Johnson’s supporters. Many view him as responsible for his ex-boss’s downfall and, for that reason, refused to back him back in July and refuse to back him now. By suggesting the former Chancellor put himself first after he “reached out” to him in the national interest, Johnson is stoking the fuels of their fury and encouraging further division in the party. Classy.

Finally, we’re under no illusions that the man who’s childhood ambition was to become “world king” has any intentions of hanging up his PM’s hat for good. No, as he states here, now’s just “not the right time”.

Just as, in his resignation speech, he likened himself to Roman leader Cincinnatus, and quoted 'The Terminator', he’s making something very clear: watch out Number 10, he’ll be back.

It is a simple and fundamental principle that the government derives its democratic legitimacy from the people. The future of the country must not be decided by plotting and U-turns at Westminster; it must be decided by the people in a general election. And for this reason The Independent is calling for an election to be held. Have your say and sign our election petition by clicking here.

Have your say in our news democracy. Click the upvote icon at the top of the page to help raise this article through the indy100 rankings.

The Conversation (0)