Long Reads

Hoist by his own petard: The story of the fall of Boris Johnson

Once again I must quote Matthew Engel, the journalist who wrote in 1997: “Great electoral victories always contain the seeds of eventual defeat.” The Conservative Party turned to Boris Johnson because he was a rule-breaker who could blow open the Brexit deadlock. He succeeded in winning the party’s biggest majority since 1987 and Getting Brexit Done. But the same cavalier attitude to the rules that raised him up has also brought him down, maybe not this week – having survived a confidence vote – but one day soon enough.

The seeds of his downfall started to germinate soon after that election victory in December 2019. Just two months later, as Covid-19 spread around the world, Downing Street responded fitfully to a public health crisis. In the early days, confusion reigned and guidelines were often unclear, even to the scientific advisers and politicians who were making them.

From a lectern one metre away from Jenny Harries, the deputy medical officer, Johnson repeated government advice to observe two metres’ social distancing – to an audience of journalists in the room all sitting closer than one metre apart.


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