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Boris Johnson – tradition endures in British politics

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Britain Prime Minister, Boris Johnson / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS

In what is more or less a ceremonial exchange of a political baton, a departing Prime Minister of Great Britain goes to the palace to tender his or her resignation to the reigning Monarch. Soon after, the incoming Prime Minister arrives in the same place, in less than a couple of hours, to accept the surrendered job. In British politics, the Government belongs to the Monarch and the Opposition is expected to be loyal. Britain is home to parliamentary democracy, one singular democratic nation of the world that does not have a written constitution, in the sense that there is no document to refer to as such. The nation thrives on tradition, customs and usages.

History has it that George I, King of Great Britain and Ireland from 1714-1727, was not fluent in the English Language. He relied on interpreters. Not least because of this impediment, he appointed Robert Walpole as “Leader of Commons” to act on his behalf. Walpole represented the King in the Commons, a privilege which invariably made him the historically-recognised first Prime Minister of Great Britain.

The history of the Monarch appointing the British Prime Minister continued on Wednesday, 24 July, when Theresa May, erstwhile Prime Minister, arrived Buckingham Palace to tender her resignation to Queen Elizabeth II. Soon after, Boris Johnson arrived at the palace to seal his appointment as the new PM.

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Unlike it is with the presidential system of government we currently practise in Nigeria, the British Prime Minister is not elected nationally. He or she is, first and foremost, a Member of Parliament, a status shared with every representative of the 650 constituencies of the nation. However, the PM owes the position to being the leader of the party or coalition of parties with a majority of seats in the legislature. It is because of this that the PM is referred to as “first among equals”.

Be that as it may, Theresa May had been PM since 2016. Her not-too-distinguished leadership was consumed by her inability to resolve the impasse over Brexit. Recall that a slim majority of British voters had voted to exit the European Union in a 2016 referendum and the task of accomplishing this Herculean task fell on this otherwise hardworking woman. She voted to remain in Europe, albeit reluctantly, but had to confront a parliament that was severely divided over a most sensitive issue.

Every proposal Theresa May made as her terms of disengagement from Europe met with agonising failure. Her party and those who had voted to exit the EU became impatient with her. The final straw that broke her political neck came with the disastrous performance of her party in the recent EU election, finishing a distant 5th behind key rivals. A newly-formed Brexit Party led by the greatest apostle of the campaign to quit Europe, Nigel Farage, had ravaged the political strongholds of the Conservative Party.

Being the decent politician she was, committed to the established ethos of British politics, Mrs May promptly outlined her exit route from her privileged position as leader of her political party, culminating in the surrender of the prestigious prime ministerial position. Following a series of campaigns and interviews, a new leader of the Conservative Party emerged in the person of Boris Johnson, hitherto Foreign Secretary and Mayor of London. Johnson had defeated his final opponent, Jeremy Haunt, in a sequence of intra-party elections in which quite a few had bitten the political dust. He defeated Haunt by 66 percent of the votes cast by 160,000 members of the Conservative Party.

Boris Johnson had hinged his campaign on delivering Brexit, unifying a nation severely divided over Europe, and defeating Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party he led in future elections. Deal or no deal, he vowed to take Britain out of the EU by 31 October. The majority in his Cabinet will be Brexiteers, a cabinet he promised will be ethnically-diverse and women well-represented. The first 100 days of his leadership will be devoted to delivering Brexit, domestic legislation can wait.
Quite a few do not believe the new Prime Minister will be a success story. They think his leadership will be disastrous, not least because they believe he cannot be trusted.  Someone actually said Boris should be the last person to be Prime Minister of Britain. Three cabinet ministers had resigned their positions to Theresa May once it became clear Mr. Johnson would be PM.

The US President, Donald Trump, believes Boris Johnson would be great. He has already christened him, “Boris Trump of Britain”. Those who had followed the career of Boris Johnson knew it was a matter of time he would be Prime Minister. The 55 years old Boris read Classics at Balliol College, University of Oxford, and was elected President of the Oxford Union in 1986. The Oxford Union is a breeding ground for future politicians of note, a debating forum for would-be great orators that Boris Johnson is.

Charismatic Boris Johnson is enthusiastically believed by supporters of the Conservative Party to be the one to win elections and reclaim lost glory. He might not even get a chance to organise an election if he were to fail to deliver Brexit as enthusiastically anticipated by the impatient adherents of this highly-controversial mission. His journey back to Buckingham Palace, to tender his resignation, could be the quickest ever made by any departing Prime Minister of Great Britain in recent history.

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