The race for arguably the least-desirable job in global politics may be turning in to a cakewalk. Boris Johnson, former London Mayor, Foreign Secretary, and current brash Brexiteer, appears to be cruising to 10 Downing Street, to succeed Theresa May as leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Johnson easily topped his rivals in the first round of voting among Tory MPs Thursday. Eventually, all but two candidates will be eliminated, giving the party’s 160,000 faithful the final choice. As is typically the case in electoral politics, winning the job will be the easy part.
Johnson was considered the leading candidate last time, to replace former Prime Minister David Cameron. However, a falling out with once and future rival, Environment Secretary Michael Gove, produced May as a compromise. On Thursday, 114 Conservative MPs backed Boris, 43 chose current Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, 37 for Gove, and 27 picked former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab. There is now discussion among rivals to form some sort of a “Stop Boris” alliance, a sure sign the match is coming to an end.
“Brexit means Brexit,” May now infamously declared upon assuming the job in 2016. Her inability to deliver Brexit— any Brexit— through the House of Commons led to May leaving the Premiership in tears last month. Her many extensions to Britain’s planned divorce from the European Union didn’t help her either. The current date is Halloween. Yet, a confidential cabinet note unearthed this week warns the country, particularly the government and pharmaceutical sector, won’t even be ready to leave by then. Even under the best of deals, the still simmering Irish question remains unresolved.
That doesn’t seem to matter to many Britons, who just want to get on with it, already. In elections to the European Parliament, voters backed a six-week old party with 30% of the vote dedicated solely to that very purpose. Depending on the poll, MEP Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party is forecast to win the next general election. With any further votes likely to be carried by Tories only, along with their Democratic Unionist allies from Northern Ireland, Conservatives won’t have a stronger champion of Brexit on their front bench than Johnson. He has said repeatedly he’d take Britain out without a deal if he can’t get a better one from Brussels. Thus, to Tory party members, Johnson may fulfill two requirements for the job: he can deliver Brexit and beat Brexit.
Across the pond, many supporters of another larger-than-life, New York-born conservative with a distinctive haircut may see parallels. Like Johnson, Donald Trump was regarded as little more than a punchline before he became President. People stopped laughing once the midwest came in on Election Night. It’s likely that, in contrast to the often awkward relationship between Trump and May, Donald and BoJo will get along swimmingly. Johnson desperately wants this job, and couldn’t have chosen a worse time to get it. How he delivers on his promised Brexit by any means, and whether the outcome turns out well, will be the difference between a truly great legacy on one hand and the answer to a trivia question on the other.