Commentary / World

The last prime minister of the United Kingdom

by Gwynne Dyer

Boris Johnson is what you would get if U.S. President Donald Trump had been educated at Eton and Oxford. Trump’s shtick would fail as badly in Britain as Johnson’s would in the United States, but questions of style aside, the two men are almost identical — and, if Tuesday’s vote goes as expected, Johnson becomes the prime minister of the United Kingdom this week.

Both men are constant, shameless liars. They are both what the experts call “sociopaths”: superficially charming, highly manipulative men who accumulate numerous wives, girlfriends and children as they go through life, but never really engage with anybody. And neither of them has any real purpose in politics.

What Trump and Johnson both conspicuously lack is set of objectives that goes beyond merely winning and keeping power. Trump’s determination to expunge every trace of President Barack Obama’s legacy (health care, the Iran deal, etc.) gives him a kind of agenda, but an entirely negative one. Johnson doesn’t even have that. His only role in British politics is to save the Conservative Party by “delivering” Brexit.

Johnson wouldn’t be in Downing Street today if there had not been an election in Britain two months ago. It was only an election for the European Parliament, but Britain had to vote in it because it still hadn’t left the European Union despite two postponements.

The EU election did, however, give British voters an opportunity to express their views on Brexit, and it was catastrophic for the Conservatives. They came fifth, behind the Greens and just ahead of the Monster Raving Loony Party.

Panic at Conservative headquarters! Their traditional voters are mostly “leavers,” and they are abandoning their party for failing to get the job done. If there is a national election in the U.K., the Conservatives will be wiped out — and an early election is quite likely.

So where’s Boris when we need him? We all know that he’s lazy, feckless, insanely ambitious, utterly unprincipled and liable to make huge mistakes, but we desperately need to rally the troops and he’s the one they love.

The Conservative Party unceremoniously dumped Prime Minister Theresa May and set up a contest for a new leader that Johnson was bound to win. That automatically makes him prime minister as well, but he may be the last prime minister of a genuinely united kingdom.

Johnson can only succeed by taking Britain out of the EU by Oct. 31. He swears that he can get a better exit deal than May negotiated, but the EU says no further negotiations are possible. He could try the traditional remedy of shouting loudly at them in English, but it may not succeed.

If that doesn’t work, he says he’ll take the U.K. out of the EU anyway, without a deal. But if he drags the U.K. out of the EU and into economic misery, then the Scots will probably decide to leave the U.K. and stay in the EU. The Scottish National Party is already promising another referendum on the question.

So there’s a lot at stake, and the man in charge is not a safe pair of hands. “Boris is the life and soul of the party, but he’s not the man you want to drive you home at the end of the evening,” as Energy Minister Amber Rudd said recently.

If Parliament can stop Johnson from doing a no-deal Brexit, of course, then none of this comes to pass. But it’s not at all certain that Parliament can do that. The British are living in interesting times.

Gwynne Dyer’s new book is “Growing Pains: The Future of Democracy (and Work).”

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