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Boris Johnson’s Foreign Policy Will Play On


Be it his arguably visionary tenure as UK foreign secretary or his quixotic time in 10 Downing Street, much of the UK’s image on the world stage has been associated with one man: Boris Johnson. As well as that, after resigning as PM, he will leave two lessons for future prime ministers – a rather unsuccessful and tedious Brexit as well as a step-by-step “how to squander an 80 seat majority” handbook. While trying to rule presidentially, and almost royally, aspiring to fulfill his personal mandate, in the process he forgot that Westminster remains and will remain a parliamentary system, where leaders represent the pleasures of the MPs. However, he has set a strong precedent with his foreign policy over the years, and while Mr Jonhson’s resignation will become a thatric of its own in the coming weeks, the UK’s approach to global issues such as the war in Ukraine, the growing domination of China and the Indo-Pacific are not trajected to change with a new leader. 

Practical implications of his resignations are not expected to become obvious until a few months down the line, or arguably until a new leader comes into power. Some general trends are clear, even though leadership contenders will each set out their own foreign policy paths. Johnson’s strong military and political support for Ukraine- seen as courageous, sensible, and almost unexpected are popular both domestically and internationally. If war is still unfolding by the time the new prime minister is appointed- expect an early visit to Kyiv. Surprising to many, beyond the hero status in Ukraine, Johnson’s government was thanked by Swedes and Finns for giving a security guarantee ahead of their NATO acquisition.  Similarly, the firm grip on China and the “Indo-Pacific” are incontestably long-term strategies, and the bigger challenges such as climate, energy prices, immigration and demographics are puppeted at a global level, deeply entrenched in the Westminster system. The slow pace of recent trade deals, generic to the economic nature of Brexit will be a pivotal point in the newbie’s mandate. 

Having said this, in his resignation speech, Johnson did state that he intends on remaining in office until the party had chosen a successor. Conveniently, only hours before the news broke, he appointed a significant number of ministers to fill the vacancies left by those who paved the gold brick road to his resignation. The implications of this seem to suggest that he is intending to govern at full capacity rather than being perceived as a custodian of the position.

When it comes to the transatlantic links with the United States. While relations with the Biden administration were correctly damaged by the sense among ruling Democrats that Brexit was a weak policy for the US and for Europe, auctioned by Johnson and his allies as well as by the sense that Johnson would have been more partial to see former president Trump win his second term. Moreover, the concern among the Irish that Johnson’s government approach to the Northern Irish facet of Brexit was at risk of undermining the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, which brought a long awaited end to their troubles. It is expected that The White House will be hoping that Johnson’s successor is less eager to enact unilateral legislation in Westminster to alter the Northern Ireland protocol- one that was hammered out by the Johnson administration as means of solving a problem that they themselves created by opting for a hard Brexit.

The departure of Boris Johnson may filter away much of the pageantry from British politics and diplomacy, however, his policies are expected to provide a far more somber and longer-lasting test. 

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