Addressing his colleagues, the press, and Britons outside No. 10 Downing Street, on a partially sunny morning, outgoing British Prime Minister Boris Johnson asked people to unite behind U.K. Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister-designate Liz Truss’ new government. His speech was laced with humour, sarcasm, and references to classics that suggested he may one day return to frontline politics.
Mr. Johnson was not permitted to complete his term as Prime Minister after his government, hit by scandals, such as Mr. Johnson and other officials breaking strict lockdown rules in 2020 and 2021 to attend parties, lost the support of much of the cabinet.
“The baton will be handed over, in what has unexpectedly turned out to be a relay race. They changed the rules halfway through, but never mind that now,” he said.
The Prime Minister in waiting was not in the crowd outside Downing Street. Mr. Johnson’s former Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, the other contender for his position, was conspicuous by his absence. Mr. Sunak was one of the first to quit the Johnson cabinet in July. Cabinet officials had resigned en mass in July resulting in the ouster of Mr. Johnson and an intra-party contest to find his replacement.
During the Conservative hustings in August, Mr. Sunak claimed that “perhaps not surprisingly” Mr. Johnson was not returning his calls, a claim Mr. Johnson did not deny. Ms. Truss stayed on in his cabinet as Foreign Secretary - a factor that may have assisted her in winning over Tory members, over 140,000 of whom voted in the internal party elections to choose their next leader.
Mr. Johnson cited among his government’s achievements: finalising Brexit, the speed at which a Covid-19 vaccine was rolled out, the low unemployment rate (3.8%), and infrastructure projects. He also said Britain supplying weapons to Ukraine may have changed the course of the war with Russia. In addition to Britain’s position on the Russia-Ukraine war, Mr. Johnson cited AUKUS, a new security alliance with the U.S. and Australia launched in 2021, as an example of Britain “standing tall” in the world .
While U.K. unemployment is the lowest it has been in more than four decades, inflation is at its highest in four decades and energy prices and the cost of living are soaring. Ms. Truss has said she will announce a plan within a week of assuming office to tackle the immediate energy price issue and longer-term supply issues.
On Tuesday, Mr. Johnson said the country now had the economic strength to give people “the cash they need to get through this energy crisis”.
On his future career, Mr. Johnson compared himself to a booster-rocket that had served its purpose.
“I am now like one of those booster rockets that has fulfilled its function. And I will now be gently re-entering the atmosphere and splashing down invisibly in some remote and obscure corner of the Pacific.“
But he left his plans open, making reference to a Roman stateman, Cincinnatus, who, retired and returned to farming but is said to have re-entered politics eventually.
“And like Cincinnatus, I am returning to my plough. And I will be offering this government nothing but the most fervent support.”
For now Mr. Johnson continues to be an MP.
“...It’s time for politics to be over folks,“ he said.
“It’s time for us all to get behind Liz truss and her team and her programme...”
Following his remarks, Mr. Johnson and his wife, Carrie, walked through a crowd of his colleagues, some teary-eyed, saying goodbye.
The Prime Minister is flying to Scotland where he will meet Queen Elizabeth II in Balmoral Castle, to hand in his resignation.
Following this, Ms. Truss will meet her and be invited by the Queen to form a new government. These ceremonial handover meetings normally occur minutes away from Downing Street, at Buckingham Palace, but the Queen, who is 96, is experiencing mobility issues and is not traveling down to London to receive her political visitors.
Ms. Truss will be the fifteenth Prime Minister in the Queen’s reign of over 70 years.
The new Prime Minister is expected to address the country from Downing Street on Tuesday evening.