The United Kingdom’s Conservative Party is moving on from the outgoing prime minister, as members have begun voting on a new leader. After leading the U.K. government during Britain’s exit from the European Union and its uneven response to the coronavirus outbreak, Boris Johnson resigned on July 7 after almost three years as PM. The party forced him out following accusations that a top government official, the deputy chief whip Chris Pincher, engaged in several instances of unwanted sexual contact—as well as evidence that Johnson lied to his Cabinet and the public that he hadn’t known about a history of accusations toward Pincher before appointing him.

As these machinations play out, Britons are living with rising inflation and a healthcare crisis. This week, millions received a one-time government subsidy to offset the climbing cost of living, with economists expecting inflation to hit 11 percent in the U.K. this year. Health authorities have put all domestic ambulance services on the highest level of alert, as emergency medical teams are overwhelmed by a surge in Covid infections and heat-related illnesses. When members of Parliament called in the health secretary for questioning on the ambulance crisis, the new secretary sent a junior minister instead, giving opposition leaders the opportunity to claim the Conservative Cabinet had given up on governing. Where has all of this left the country?

Matthias Matthijs is a senior fellow for Europe at the Council on Foreign Relations and an associate professor of international political economy at the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. In Matthijs’s view, Johnson’s tenure has changed the United Kingdom in ways that will continue shaping it for many years to come. Its posture toward the EU was determined by Johnson and is now shared by both Conservatives and their opponents in the Labour Party. His decisions on Brexit have exacerbated historic tensions over the status of Northern Ireland and made the reunification of the island as a whole more likely. And, as Matthias sees it, Johnson has transformed the dynamic between his country’s two major parties with positions and rhetoric that won over many middle-class voters, leaving Labour with few opportunities to counter. As things stand, Matthias says, the United Kingdom now has less global influence after cutting itself off from the EU, while its future global standing—in a time when states worldwide are dividing into blocs, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—has become more uncertain.

Michael Bluhm: Johnson’s time as prime minister has been full of scandal and chronic controversy. Why did his party finally force his resignation now?

Matthias Matthijs: It’s a good question. They settled on him as their party leader because they knew that what they were about to embark on with Brexit was quite radical—and that it didn’t have broad support among the British public. About 52 percent voted to leave the EU, but 52 percent didn’t vote for this hard form of Brexit—leaving the European Single Market and the EU Customs Union.

This article is for members only

Join to read on and have access to The Signal‘s full library.

Join now Already have an account? Sign in