British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced his resignation Thursday, saying his party had made it clear he should do so.
“It is clearly now the will of the Parliamentary Conservative Party that there should be a new leader of that party, and therefore, a new prime minister,” Johnson told a crowd outside the prime minister’s official residence and office at 10 Downing Street in London.
The prime minister said he would step down as more than 50 of his ministers resigned.
Among other recent missteps, Johnson was criticized for appointing a Conservative in Parliament, Chris Pincher, to a government position after having knowledge of sexual misconduct allegations against Pincher.
Theodore “Ted” Bromund, a Heritage Foundation senior research fellow in Anglo-American relations, joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to explain why Johnson is stepping down and what his resignation means for Great Britain and for America’s relationship with the U.K.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:
Virginia Allen: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson … [announced] his resignation as the prime minister of Great Britain. And here with us to explain why he is stepping down is The Heritage Foundation’s senior research fellow in Anglo-American relations in the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, Ted Bromund. Ted, thanks for being here.
Ted Bromund: Great to be with you and your listeners.
Allen: So let’s start with a big question. Why did Boris Johnson step down?
Bromund: First, [let’s look at] short-term causes. The Conservative government that he led has been battered by a series of scandals over the past several months, really almost the past half year.
This really began early in 2022. The Conservative government had imposed very harsh lockdown measures in the U.K. as a response to COVID-19, including closing their favorite institution of the British, their pubs, and preventing people from going out and getting a drink. Behind the scenes, unfortunately, Boris Johnson’s staff and ministers were throwing drinks parties and staying up all hours. And when—
Allen: Not a good look.
Bromund: And it’s not a good look. When people can’t go out and get a pint of beer at the pub, and you’re busy holding drinks parties, people are going to call you, rightly, a hypocrite.
And it’s even worse when people are dying because of COVID and can’t actually go see their dying relatives or parents and the prime minister is holding drinks parties. That goes down really badly.
Then there’ve been a series of really hideous sex scandals with Conservative MPs over the last six months. Just in April alone, three Conservative MPs were forced to resign or were disciplined in various ways because of sex abuse cases. There was another one a few days ago.
Individually, maybe Boris Johnson could have ridden one or two of these things out, but one thing after another. And I often say that watching British politics is like waiting for the avalanche. You never know when that stone is going to start to roll that’s going to lead to someone losing their job. And this is just the culmination of an avalanche that’s been gathering speed for a long time now.
Allen: Well, and it seemed like it really was, especially in the past week or two, really gaining momentum because we saw that a number, more than 50, of Johnson’s ministers resigned. Why did so much of his own government resign?
Bromund: Well, I mean, the easy thing to say is rats leaving the sinking ship. And there’s probably a little bit of truth in that. Ultimately, in British politics, someone is prime minister because their MPs think that they are a vote-winner. And Conservative MPs were willing to support Johnson as long as he looked like he was more popular than they were. In other words, Boris was giving them a boost.
Well, that stopped being true several months ago. And as scandal after scandal hits, the residual loyalty diminishes until people start to realize, “God, if I want a political career going forward, I got to get out of this right now because this guy’s going down. And if I stay on the ship, he’s going to take me and everyone else with him.”
And of course, it’s a way of putting pressure, ultimately, very successful pressure, on Boris to quit himself. So the upside is there’ll be a new Conservative prime minister. We can talk a little bit about the hows, whys, and wherefores of that, but there’ll be a new Conservative prime minister that will hopefully give the Conservative Party a chance to win the next election. Right now they don’t look like favorites, but they got a couple years. So it’s far from impossible.
Allen: So who does take over? Do we know? And what is the timeline on that?
Bromund: We don’t know the answer to either of those questions.
Bromund: Boris wants to hang on until October when this very slow Conservative Party process for picking a new leader of the party will conclude, and that person would then become prime minister.
I’m not sure that Boris is going to be able to hang on until October because it’s only early July right now. That’s a long time to be, essentially, a lame duck. We’re sort of used to lame-duck presidents in the United States. Britain doesn’t really have a tradition of lame-duck prime ministers. That’s just not a thing in a parliamentary system.
So my money is on Boris being forced to go as prime minister fairly rapidly. And the queen naming a new Conservative prime minister on an interim basis, probably Dominic Raab, who’s the deputy prime minister. He would then serve until the new leader of the Conservative Party is picked and that person would then become prime minister.
Of course, if it works out that way, Dominic Raab himself would be a front-runner to be the new prime minister. So we might have an interim prime minister who becomes a real proper prime minister come October.
Allen: OK. And when is Great Britain’s next election?
Bromund: Well, that is a really good question, which, unfortunately, isn’t easy to answer because, unlike the United States here, we [don’t] have fixed elections. Every four years [in the U.S.], we get either a new president or we get a repeat president. Every two years the House is elected. Senate serves for six years, etc. We all know sort of the basic fact here.
In the United Kingdom, the government can, with some restrictions, call an election when it wants to. Generally speaking, you’ve got to do it within five years. So, realistically, you’re going to have an election in 2024, but it’s conceivable that there could be an election that would be held earlier.
Where the conservatives are in polling right now, they’re going to want to push that election out as far as legally possible because right now they’re not looking very healthy.
Allen: Well, it was interesting to see The Wall Street Journal on Thursday afternoon, they published an opinion piece titled “The Rise and Fall of Boris Johnson” and they get into the scandal and the controversy in that piece. But they really say that his undoing was the fact that he campaigned from the right, but he governed from the left. Do you think that that’s a fair assessment of Boris Johnson?
Bromund: Yeah, absolutely. Boris has acquired the tag of being the Conservatives’ Conservative because he got Brexit done. And Boris will always be esteemed by millions and millions of people because he was the man who delivered victory in the Brexit referendum and he was the man who got Britain out of the European Union. And those are great historic achievements that he deserves enormous credit for.
But people sort of think about Brexit and that’s all they think about. They forget that in a lot of other ways, Boris was never really a very conservative Conservative. He had some good instincts on trade, good free trader. He was very stout in standing up to [Russian leader Vladimir] Putin. He boosted British defense spending.
Those are all really solid achievements, but when you come to things like COVID, he was a real lockdown enthusiast and that’s not a particularly Conservative position. He was a big spender. Britain is collecting more as a share of income in taxes now than it has at any point since the Labour government, the far-left Labour government, the socialist Labour government immediately after World War II.
Britain under Boris didn’t really reform all of its strangulating planning controls. It didn’t make it easier to build houses. It didn’t institute a lot of the reforms that people would hope would come after Brexit.
And that’s really the problem, is that if you don’t do all the things you’re supposed to do, if you’re a Conservative and you don’t act like a Conservative when scandals hit and unfortunately, in government scandals always do hit, people are going to say, “Why should I be loyal to you? You didn’t do what you said you were going to do. It said … that you’re a Conservative and you’ve really governed—except for Brexit—like … [a] centrist, big spending, in our sense sort of Democratic kind of figure. Why should I be loyal to you?”
Well, turns out people weren’t loyal.
Allen: Now, what about economic policy? This is something and we’ve touched on some. You’ve touched on, but The Wall Street Journal piece really highlighted. They say that Boris Johnson, he planned to raise the corporate tax rate from 26% from 19% when he should have been cutting it to attract investments. And they go on to say that Britain is now in the grip of an inflation crisis that Mr. Johnson has made worse at every turn. Your response?
Bromund: Yeah. I mean, unfortunately, Boris Johnson did a lot of the things wrong that we in the United States have done and are busy doing, a really big spend in government, lots of borrowing. In Boris’ case, [there was] tax increases and proposed tax increases. These are things that the Democrats are very much in favor of right now.
And also in terms of monetary policy, again in the United States, lots and lots of easy money flooding into the system, supposedly to support hiring, when in fact unemployment is pretty low. Same problem in the United Kingdom, except there, of course, it’s the Bank of England—easy money sloshing around on top of a government spending a lot of money and borrowing a lot of money on its own.
You could make a case, perhaps, for a little bit of this as a response to COVID, but way too much carried on for way too long, with no clear vision of how Britain was going to make us an economic success of itself or a success economically of Brexit.
And so, when the economy goes belly up, voters tend to not like the government that’s in charge, that’s universal. And it wasn’t like the Johnson government could point to great big successes except for Brexit and say, “OK, inflation’s high, but look what we’ve done for you.” Brexit … is two years ago. It’s still a big story. It’s still important. It’s still great. But what have you done for me lately? High inflation is not the answer governments want to give.
Allen: What do you think the lessons are that American politicians can learn from Johnson’s downfall?
Bromund: If you call yourself a conservative, be a conservative. Cut taxes, cut regulations, cut spending, stand up for traditional values.
I will say that Boris’ government did a pretty good job of that in education. They were a real leader in the fight against woke education. So, props to them for that. But education is a huge issue, but pocketbook always matters.
And if you can’t get the economy right from a conservative perspective, you’re going to have a really tough time as a conservative. I hate to say this, as a foreign policy guy myself, but ultimately, most people are going to vote based on domestic pocketbook issues, not foreign policy, unless you’re actively in a war.
And Britain right now is doing great things in helping Ukraine, but that’s not enough to convince British voters, especially with all these scandals, that the Conservative Party and Boris are the right guy to tackle the inflation problem, which they are significantly responsible for creating, unfortunately.
Allen: Has this ever happened before, that a British prime minister has stepped down in the middle of his term?
Bromund: Oh, yes. This kind of thing happens all the time. I’m still sorry to say it, but the great Margaret Thatcher was forced out of office by her own Conservative Party. That was a historic mistake on the part of the Conservatives. But it is a fact, unfortunately, that it happened.
And there have been many other prime ministers who’ve been forced out for their term. You can think of Neville Chamberlain, who was ultimately forced out of power and replaced with the great Winston Churchill. You can think of Anthony Eden, who was forced out of power in 1957 and replaced with the adequate Harold Macmillan.
Prime ministers in a parliamentary system come and go. And I have tremendous admiration for so much of Boris’ achievements in foreign policy and Brexit and even here or there in domestic policy, but scandals hurt and the economy hurts. And unfortunately, he didn’t have a solid enough track record of achievement in the areas that matter to voters like the economy to ride it all out.
Allen: So Great Britain, they’ve weathered these transitions before. How do you think they’re going to come out the other side of this one? How’s this going to affect Great Britain and the people of Great Britain?
Bromund: Ultimately, if the Conservative Party can get back on track, if it can start governing like a conservative party should—[and] remember, you’ve got two more years of Conservative government. You’ve got a solid Conservative majority in the House of Commons. The next prime minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is going to be a Conservative.
If they can get some control over spending, have a more sensible taxation policy, try to deal with some of these crippling rail strikes that they’ve been facing, [and] try to have not, maybe not quite so many sex scandals—and if you do have scandals, punish people for them, instead of letting them ride—the Conservatives have a solid chance of winning the next election and of carrying things forward.
If they govern poorly, unfortunately, they’ll get the results they deserve. And if they do, Britain will get an even more high-tax, high-spend Labour government that will be very damaging for the long run.
Ultimately though, I’m pretty bullish on Britain. They’ve been around for a very long time. They’re the, depending how you count, fifth- or sixth-biggest economy in the world. They are an extraordinarily successful trader and attractor of investment. They’re a place that millions of people, millions of Americans, want to visit as tourists. They’re a huge destination for Americans and many other people who want to study abroad, travel abroad, etc. If they have sensible policies, they’re going to be just fine.
Allen: Is anything about America’s relationship with Great Britain going to change from this?
Bromund: Undoubtedly, they’re going to be a few changes. A new prime minister will bring a new slant on things, but the core of the relationship is very, very solid. I like to compare Anglo-American relations with an iceberg. The part that we’re really interested in, which is all the politics, Boris going, what silly things has President [Joe] Biden said, etc., etc., all that stuff matters, but it’s like 10%. It’s the bit of the iceberg you see on top of the water.
What really matters is the 90% of the iceberg underneath: our defense ties, our intelligence ties, our trade ties, our investment ties, our legal ties, our history ties, our tourism ties, our popular culture ties.
This relationship is so thick. There’s so much to it. We trade a lot with Germany, for example. Who here cares about German popular culture? No one. We have very important defense relations with Japan, but does Japan loom as large for us as the United Kingdom does? No, absolutely not.
So it’s not like Britain’s our only friend in the world and it’s not like we’re Britain’s only friend in the world. But we’ve got this huge, deep iceberg of a relationship and we shouldn’t get too hung up on what happens to presidents and prime ministers from day to day.
I’m very sorry for what’s happened to Boris Johnson. It’s mostly his own fault, tragically. That’s very unfortunate. But at the end of the day, the U.S.-U.K. relationship is not based on Boris Johnson. It’s certainly not based on President Biden. We’re going to be OK.
Allen: Ted Bromund, the senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation. Ted, thank you for your time today. We really appreciate it.
Bromund: Thank you.
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