Boris Johnson’s resignation from parliament is nothing other than a good day for British democracy. As prime minister, Johnson besmirched and subverted his own office, and other institutions he touched. He announced his departure in a petulant statement before a parliamentary report that is expected to deliver the most damning criticism of an ex-premier in living memory for misleading the Commons over what he knew about Downing Street parties during lockdown. By saying he was leaving “for now”, Johnson hinted at a comeback like that of his hero, Winston Churchill. He should not be given the chance.

Johnson will remain, no doubt, one of the most consequential prime ministers in recent history. By steering Britain out of the EU he changed the nation’s political trajectory and granted the wishes of the 52 per cent who backed Brexit in the 2016 referendum. Yet in his self-centredness, his casual disregard for truth and for the rules and conventions that bind others, his cronyist tendencies and his lack of managerial seriousness and competence, he damaged his office and the UK’s global standing.

In part by promising to “get Brexit done”, Johnson won the biggest Tory majority in three decades. But he lacked the abilities to make a success of the EU departure, or at least to deliver it in the least harmful way. His bare-bones exit deal prioritised illusory “sovereignty” but maximised the economic hit. Signing up to Northern Ireland trade rules he clearly did not intend to stick to sullied the UK’s reputation for respect for the law.

At home, Johnson sapped trust in Britain’s government and institutions, and made many ministers, civil servants and aides complicit. Attempting to sideline parliament as he jousted with Brussels strained the UK’s unwritten constitution. The shambolic handling of Covid-19 left Britain with the highest deaths per million in the G7. Allowing social gatherings in Downing Street that breached rules Johnson himself had written enraged millions.

The Commons privileges committee is expected to deliver a damning verdict on whether Johnson lied to parliament in assertions over those parties. By calling the committee a “kangaroo court”, some members suggest Johnson or his allies may have impugned its integrity and engaged in contempt of parliament. In an echo of polarised US politics, heightened security arrangements are in place for the committee after reports of threats from the public.

As US Republicans did with Donald Trump, too many Conservative MPs initially threw in their lot with Johnson because they saw him as a winner who could connect with a different voter base. Unlike the Republicans, the Conservative party has gone a good way towards shaking him off, because enough MPs concluded in the end that he was damaging their prospects.

Johnson now has a vested interest in Conservative failure at the next general election. A defeat of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak would present him with the possibility of reclaiming the leadership, if he could secure a safe seat, in a vote among party members — or at least of being able to claim that he alone was sprinkled with electoral stardust. Johnson’s acolyte Jacob Rees-Mogg has suggested barring the ex-premier from standing again as a Conservative would cause “civil war” in the party.

But a mooted broader mutiny after Johnson’s resignation on Friday fizzled, and there is no advantage for Sunak in trying to make peace with a man he can never trust. If Johnson attempts to run again as a Tory, Sunak should block him. The former premier had his chance and squandered it. A second act would not be in the interests of his party — or the country.

Articles You May Like

Hunt jokes ‘Vote Labour’ as Lib Dems chase top Tories
Selling pressure mounts, muni yields spike
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer pledges to end the Tory ‘chaos’
Labour faces series of crises if elected, internal dossier warns
Reform UK races to get on general election footing