A RECORD heatwave continued to make its way across Europe yesterday as an equally fevered changing of the guards occurred in the UK with the handing over of the reins of power from Theresa May to maverick politician Boris Johnson.
“No ifs or buts,” Johnson declared on the steps of No. 10 Downing Street as he promised to withdraw the UK from the European Union (EU) by October 31. “Never mind the backstop, the buck stops here.”
Johnson laid out an overall vision and plan for his tenure, but his words had the distinct air of being an election campaign, not a prime ministerial, speech. He could well be mindful of the writing on the wall.
The new prime minister inherits Theresa May’s slender coalition government which saw her administration propped up by a confidence and supply arrangement with the DUP. Only last week, attempts to make it harder for Johnson to enact a hard Brexit by proroguing Parliament were passed after rebellions within the ruling party is a clear sign of the challenge facing Johnson.
He has already promised much, including to withdraw the EU within his first 100 days in office, yet he will have to find a way to unite the warring factions or achieve wider support. With the UK opposition already poised to table a motion of no confidence, Johnson may well have little choice but to seek a fresh mandate – and an outright majority – from the people through a general election. The hot temperatures, then, are fitting.
On his way to power yesterday, Johnson’s motorcade was interrupted by protestors calling attention to climate change. Perhaps an even more serious obstacle, however, were the mass resignations from cabinet which, overnight, made plain the discontent of many at the prospect of serving under him. At the same time, Johnson has been given a clean slate.
The optimistic tone and lofty rhetoric of the British PM’s maiden speech, then, disguised the perilous waters ahead. It also went some way to addressing concerns about Johnson’s personal record on a range of issues.
Johnson has been compared to Donald Trump. Both have a penchant for flip-flopping on issues, for being provocative and unpredictable, for expressing views and positions that are racist, sexist. Johnson’s Eton background and his past championing of the cause of the super-rich, his statements about Muslims, his past support of section 28, all of it is in stark contrast to his ode, in front of Downing Street yesterday, to a country that stands for equality no matter “race or gender or LGBT”.
Still, whatever the state of its politics and society, orderly transition of government is something Britain does well. Despite the uncertainties that now lie ahead, at least that much is clear.