By Lacey Waters, Associate
Tomorrow marks one month of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (it’s a month today since he became Leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party). Almost immediately after returning from Buckingham Palace he began appointing a rapid-fire Cabinet, more ethnically diverse, youthful, and Eurosceptic than that of his predecessor. With 33 members it is also much larger, and includes grassroots favourites in the form of Priti Patel, Sajid Javid, Liz Truss, and the indomitable Jacob Rees-Mogg. But what exactly has happened since July 24th?
Tough on crime
During his first speech as PM Johnson vowed to recruit 20,000 police officers by 2022 in a bid to “make our streets safer”, as well as urgently review pilot schemes making it easier to conduct stop and search operations.
This was closely followed by plans for a National Policing Board with Home Secretary Priti Patel at the helm as part of a “new partnership” between Government and police. In her first interview since returning to the Cabinet, Patel reaffirmed the perception that the Conservatives are the party of law and order, saying she wanted criminals to “literally feel terror” at the thought of breaking the law. Whilst this was met with wide support from party members and voters alike, Patel’s previous support for bringing back capital punishment did put somewhat of a dampener on both her appointment and stance.
Her Labour counterpart Diane Abbott criticised “tough rhetoric” saying that this alone is not enough to prevent crime. Abbott instead favours community based initiatives – an approach that has become increasingly difficult following cuts, and closures of local police stations.
Always a contentious issue across the country, with conflicting and mixed signals often coming from Government, Johnson has been opposed to the scheme, much like former fellow leadership contender and Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom.
It was widely believed he would scrap it completely upon entering office, which is why it came as a surprise when there was radio silence on the issue, and Grant Shapps – who has consistently voted for it – was appointed Transport Secretary. This led many to believe the PM’s previously critical views were being swept under the rug, especially when he appeared to have a change of heart when speaking in Birmingham.
However, this changed just a few days ago with the announcement of an immediate review into the scheme’s costs and benefits – with a decision on whether or not it will go ahead by the end of the year. Shapps has refused to rule out scrapping it entirely, instead saying a review is a “responsible” approach. Whatever the outcome, it is sure to anger people on at least one side of the debate, not least in Johnson’s own Government.
Unfortunately, we are not able to get through this blog without mentioning the B word. Although, as Johnson has said the UK will leave the European Union on October 31st – deal or no deal, “do or die” maybe we won’t have to in 69 days time (we can but dream).
In the week following his election, the Prime Minister put the ball back in the EU’s court by declaring they must compromise on the controversial Irish backstop by taking it off the table if they want to avoid a No Deal Brexit and continue with negotiations. These comments were a way of showing the EU he isn’t just all talk, which is of course a notable change in tactic from that of his predecessor. A letter was penned to European Council President Donald Tusk outlining why the “anti-democratic” backstop cannot form part of the Withdrawal Agreement, and that “alternative arrangements” should be put in place. Unsurprisingly, Tusk rejected the contents of the letter, saying it did not contain a “legally operational solution”.
On Wednesday, Johnson met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and then with French President Emmanuel Macron yesterday. Merkel perhaps gave a glimmer of hope with regard to negotiations by saying “why not?” to the possibility of the UK Government coming up with solution to the backstop in the next 30 days. Johnson labelled this a “very blistering” timetable but indicated he was more than happy to accept. This was also somewhat echoed by Macron saying he was “very confident” a solution could be reached in 30 days as long as there is “good will on both sides”.
So far, so Boris. He has continued in his post-premiership commitments to leaving the EU on October 31st with or without a deal. He has even seemingly managed to complete more cordial encounters with two of the biggest hitters of the remaining EU 27 leaders: certainly better than May achieved recently. According to some polls, the Conservative approval rate is soaring whilst Labour’s is diminishing. But we mustn’t forget that we are still in the depths of Summer Recess.
Johnson has yet to face a real test, which will take place when Parliament returns. Jeremy Corbyn has already said he will table a Vote of No Confidence at the earliest opportunity and is looking at potential ways to install himself as head of a ‘Unity Government’ and call yet another General Election (spare a thought for poor Brenda). There are even murmurs Johnson will call one himself immediately post-Brexit. Whatever happens between now and the end of October, the true challenge will begin on November 1st.
Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images