Johnson can do what he pleases at home but hard Brexit choices await

Scale and nature of prime minister’s victory set to reshape British political landscape

Speaking outside Downing Street on Friday afternoon, Boris Johnson acknowledged that he owed his resounding victory to constituencies that had not voted Conservative in a century and that some first-time Tory voters might have been uncomfortable casting their vote.

“I want to speak directly to those who made it possible and to all those who voted for us for the first time, all those whose pencils may have wavered over the ballot and who heard the voices of their parents and their grandparents whispering anxiously in their ears. I say thank you for the trust you have placed in us and in me and we will work round the clock to repay your trust and to deliver on your priorities with a parliament that works for you,” he said.

Johnson describes his administration as a "one-nation" Conservative government, a reference to Benjamin Disraeli's description of Britain's two nations who knew nothing of one another – "the rich and the poor".

The prime minister told Conservative activists on Friday morning that the party would have to change if it is to represent its new voters and during the campaign he proclaimed the end of austerity, promising more money for health, education and policing. The scale and the nature of his victory in reshaping Britain’s political landscape is set to drive the creation of a new kind of British Conservatism.


Johnson’s Conservatives will be tough on law and order and national security, firmly within Washington’s orbit on foreign policy and candidly nationalistic. But they will be big spenders on public services, with a big role for state intervention in redistributing infrastructure and opportunity from London to the English regions.

In this regard, they will be something like Poland’s Law and Justice Party without the homophobia, the media curbs and the judicial interference. Or perhaps not entirely without the last two.

During the last few days of the campaign, Johnson mused about the future of the BBC licence fee and some of his aides would like to limit media access to the government. And among the tiny handful of policies outlined in the Conservative manifesto is a promise to ensure that judicial review ”is not abused to conduct politics by another means or to create needless delays”.

Clear horizon

Johnson’s majority of 80 will allow him to do more or less as he pleases in domestic policy but he will be unable to determine the outcome of negotiations on Britain’s future relationship with the EU. He faces a stark choice between agreeing to a “level playing field” on employment and environmental standards, competition policy and state aid or forgoing his ambition for a “zero-tariff, zero-quota” trade deal with the EU.

Any restrictions he agrees with the EU will limit the scope of a trade deal with the US and political pressure from the Conservatives’ new voters will make big areas of the British economy out of bounds in any negotiation with Washington.

Such concerns are distant clouds on the prime minister's otherwise clear horizon. Labour and the Liberal Democrats, on the other hand, have emerged from the election in crisis after catastrophic results.

Labour's performance, its worst since 1935, prompted Jeremy Corbyn to start the process of stepping down as leader but he and his supporters insist that Brexit is to blame. But a poll by Opinium found 37 per cent of voters who defected from Labour on Thursday cited the leadership as their motivation, compared to 21 per cent who named Brexit.

Jo Swinson, who triggered the election by agreeing to support Johnson in calling it, began the campaign by presenting herself as a possible prime minister and ended it with the loss of her own seat in Scotland, along with those of almost half her colleagues.