Bobby McDonagh: Boris Johnson is like a hamster on a roulette wheel

Making sense of the UK prime minister is an impossible task – but we must try

Impulsive creature: UK prime minister Boris Johnson. Photograph: Tolga Akmen/PA Wire

Impulsive creature: UK prime minister Boris Johnson. Photograph: Tolga Akmen/PA Wire

Two years after Boris Johnson became prime minister of the UK, on July 24th, 2019, many are still trying to work out what makes him tick. The UK’s international partners, including Ireland, have a particular need to understand, insofar as possible, his underlying motivation and objectives.

It is no easy task. Alongside Johnson’s straightforward domestic political manoeuvring, there is a high degree of ambiguity and above all unpredictability on substantive policy issues. It is hard to detect a coherent strategy or set of principles. Frequent U-turns are now unsettling even some Conservative MPs. Dominic Cummings has compared his former boss to a shopping trolley careering from one side of the aisle to the other. While Cummings is arguably about as convincing a witness as Richard Nixon claiming he was not a crook, this particular simile has a certain ring of truth. Johnson reportedly told Cummings, when they were discussing the response to a possible second wave of Covid, that his own heart was “with bonkers”. The challenge is sometimes to make coherent sense of an approach hardwired with unpredictability.

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