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LONDON – Boris Johnson took one of his last walks out of Number 10 Downing Street this week. After more government officials called for him to quit, the U.K. prime minister stepped down as Conservative party leader which will lead to his departure as PM.
Until the end, the flamboyant leader blamed a political feeding frenzy for his downfall. “The herd instinct is powerful,” he remarked. “In politics, no one is remotely indispensable.”
In fact, though, most analysts said the main reason for Johnson’s downfall was a loss of trust following a series of scandals including perceived misconduct during the COVID-19 lockdowns and most recently, his promotion of a lawmaker accused of sexual misconduct.
Johnson said again Friday he would stick around as an “interim” or “caretaker” prime minister until his party chooses a successor. That is not thought to be until early September.
One of those not pleased with that: opposition Labour party leader Keir Starmer. “He needs to go completely,” Starmer said. “None of this nonsense about clinging on for a few months.”
Who will replace Boris Johnson? There are no clear frontrunners. The first major player to throw his hat in the ring is former finance minister Rishi Sunak. Others expected to follow include foreign secretary Liz Truss and defense secretary Ben Wallace.
But it’s thought none, for better or worse, will be as colorful as the man they’ve called “Bojo.”
His boosters said it was a good thing Johnson took Britain out of the European Union. Many critics were not so sure.
Most said, though, that his championing of work on U.K. COVID-19 vaccines was an accomplishment – as well as his defense of Ukraine in its war against Russia. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he was saddened by Johnson’s departure. The Kremlin said it was a “just reward.”
Former President Trump was a fan of the outspoken Boris Johnson. The outgoing prime minister was even dubbed “Britain’s Trump.”
President Biden was less favorable, but in a statement he said, in part, “I look forward to continuing our close cooperation with the government of the United Kingdom.”
In the end, it was the British public who lost patience with the scandal-ridden politician and also turned against him. “He should have gone a long time ago,” was one comment echoed around the U.K.
Johnson, in the end, after some three years in the job, said he understood. “I want you to know how sad I am to be giving up the best job in the world,” he said, “but ‘them’s the breaks.’”
That last phrase, by the way, had U.K. newspapers scrambling for a translation. Just for the record, it’s American slang for “that’s the way things turn out.”
Many British observers are clearly hoping for a successor a bit more reserved – and closer to home.