Moving trucks have already started arriving in Downing Street to remove the outgoing Prime Minister’s things Boris Johnson, who will soon be replaced by a new leader chosen by the Conservative Party. The debate over his legacy to his party, the country and the world will continue long after he is gone for good in September, assuming he is truly gone for good.
Johnson pulled Britain out of the European Union and scored a landslide victory before his government collapsed amid a series of ethics scandals.
“Mission Mostly Accomplished”Johnson declared in his last appearance before Parliament as prime minister, in July.
Historians, however, are much harsher.
“Winston Churchill said that history would be generous to me because I intend to write it”said Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London. “I’m sure Johnson thinks the same, but I doubt that (history) is as generous with him as it was with his idol”.
Johnson cultivated a public image of buffoon, but had a strong impact in his country. He gets much of the credit, or the blame, for leaving the EU, a momentous decision that will be felt for years to come.
“One thing is certain: His legacy is Brexit”said Steven Fielding, professor of political history at the University of Nottingham. “No one takes that away. What you have to decide is whether that was a good thing or a bad thing.”.
Johnson’s support for leaving the bloc in a 2016 referendum was vital to the yes victory. He was a much more attractive figure than the others. And when disputes with Parliament forced the downfall of Prime Minister Theresa May three years later, Johnson succeeded her on the promise of “make Brexit happen”.
With him at the helm, the Conservatives achieved a huge electoral victory in 2019 and the following year they fulfilled their purpose of taking the United Kingdom out of the EU. The prolonged divorce, however, does not seem like a fait accompli.
Relations with the EU have soured amid unresolved disputes over trade rules applicable to Northern Ireland.
New customs and regulatory barriers complicate trade between Britain and the 27-nation EU. And the benefits that Johnson and the other Brexiteers promised — a more dynamic economy and freedom from EU rules — have yet to be seen.
The promise to redistribute investments and opportunities to favor neglected regions of Britain was also not fulfilled. Whoever succeeds him will inherit a deflated economy and a skyrocketing cost of living as a result of Brexit and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Margaret MacMillan, an emeritus professor of international history at Oxford University, said Johnson leaves the UK weak both economically and constitutionally.
“The Union is weaker, the status and future of Northern Ireland is in doubt, and relations with the EU, which remains Britain’s main trading partner, are no better (if not worse) than when he became prime minister.
Another determining element of his management was COVID-19, which had Johnson in an intensive care unit in April 2020 and caused more than 180,000 deaths in Great Britain.
Johnson hesitated before imposing lockdowns in March 2020. Experts say that taking such a step a week earlier would have prevented the deaths of thousands of people.
In all, Johnson ordered three lengthy confinements and a vaccination program that was considered a great success.
Victoria Honeyman, a professor of British politics at the University of Leeds, said the verdict on Johnson’s handling of the pandemic would depend on who you ask.
“His supporters will say that his actions were beneficial and justified”held, “while their detractors will say they were the bare minimum”.
Johnson was also one of the main allies of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Britain supported Ukraine not only with words, but with billions of dollars in military and humanitarian aid. Still, there are those who say that any British ruler would have done the same thing in his place.
His achievements on the domestic level were not many. His government was characterized by chaos, divisions and a constant atmosphere of crisis. And Johnson ended up paying dearly for his habit of defying the rules.
He downplayed the discomfort generated by parties in Downing Street in the midst of a pandemic, for which he was fined by the police. And his appointment of a leader accused of sexual harassment to an important position was the straw that broke the camel’s back. His own Conservative Party forced his departure.
“The tragedy is that whoever replaces Johnson will inevitably be someone who tolerated his dishonesty, his corruption and his incompetence for years.”Cambridge history professor Richard Evans wrote in the New Statesman. “It will take a long time to clean up the mess that Boris Johnson left behind.”
Another Cambridge historian, Robert Tombs, however, told Spiked that Johnson could one day be seen as “a highly underrated politician… with some human frailties, but spot on when it counted”.
Johnson, 58, has made it clear that he does not intend to disappear from the map. He remains a Member of Parliament and some Conservatives believe he might try to return to power if his successor does not fare well.