George Brandis, Australia’s former high commissioner to the United Kingdom, has called Boris Johnson the most consequential prime minister of the UK since Margaret Thatcher.
The former attorney-general’s comments come after Johnson announced he would be stepping down as prime minister following the resignation of 55 Conservative Party MPs from the ministry.
Brandis Q.C., now-professor of national security at the Australian National University, said Johnson was a “real fighter” who would have been keen to see out his tenure but in the end knew he was “entirely politically unviable.”
He said the lockdown party incident was “untidy” but it should not overshadow his achievements, saying the former British prime minister had defied expectations to win an electoral mandate to push through with Brexit.
“Now there are very strongly differing views about whether that was a good thing or a bad thing, but there’s no doubt at all that it was the most important inflection point in British history in our lifetimes—and it wouldn’t have happened without Boris Johnson,” Brandis told ABC RN Breakfast on July 8.
“[S]o his agency as the person who created that turning point in British political history does in my view make him the most consequential British prime minister since Margaret Thatcher.”
Strong Public Support for Johnson
In an op-ed published in The Age, Brandis said that after winning two elections as London mayor, Johnson had the biggest Tory majority since Margaret Thatcher by smashing and winning over the so-called “red wall”—the 60 or so seats in the industrial north of England which had been Labour Party heartland for generations.
“[Johnson] managed to connect with working-class voters in a way [ex-PM David] Cameron never could. In fact, the demographic in which, at the time of the last election, he scored highest of all was older working-class men.”
Brandis also thought that Britain’s response to the Russia-Ukraine conflict was the “most immediate, the most unequivocal and expressed with greater moral clarity” than any European or North Atlantic nation.
“At a time when all the focus has been on the negatives about Boris Johnson, I think it behooves us to remember that he was a very strong political leader who, but for carelessness and personal recklessness, I think would have gone on to even greater things.”
Australian Political Leaders Respond to Resignation
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said it was unfortunate that Johnson was “forced out” by his party but is confident that the relationship between the two countries remained unchanged.
Albanese presented Johnson with a South Sydney Rabbitohs jersey just two weeks ago while in Madrid for the NATO Summit.
A warm meeting with @BorisJohnson ahead of the NATO summit today in Madrid. We discussed how we can strengthen our unique strategic relationship through AUKUS, action on climate change, and engagement in the Indo-Pacific. pic.twitter.com/GB8zmJPDPm
— Anthony Albanese (@AlboMP) June 29, 2022
“Australia and the United Kingdom … have close personal links, defence ties and close business ties and it is absolutely critical that that continue in a seamless fashion. I’m certain it will. Our countries are close,” Albanese told Channel 7.
“We will work with whoever the next UK prime minister is … Our relationship isn’t just one between individuals.”
Albanese added that Johnson’s resignation was a reminder of “how tough politics can be.”
In his resignation speech on July 7, Johnson said that he was “giving up the best job in the world,” and that while it was “painful” to give up the top job, nobody was “indispensable.”
Both Brandis and Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham said that Johnson would be remembered as the prime minister who sealed the Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement.
Johnson was also one of the signatories of the AUKUS agreement between U.S. President Joe Biden and former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. The deal will see the United States and UK both assist Australia with acquiring nuclear-powered submarines.
Johnson is expected to be interim prime minister as he reassembles his Cabinet.