Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons, London. Picture date: Wednesday July 20, 2022.
House Of Commons | Pa Images | Getty Images
Departing U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson bid farewell to lawmakers in his own inimitable style as he implored British parliamentarians not to pay too much attention to Twitter, described the leader of the opposition Labour Party a “pointless human bollard” and — his final shot — channeled Arnold Schwarzenegger as he told the House of Commons, “Hasta la vista, baby.”
Johnson, who is leaving office when a successor is elected after a series of scandals and controversies, addressed lawmakers Wednesday at his final session of the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions event in which he defended his record in office and offered his parting words to Parliament.
He reminded the house that he had helped to win the Conservative Party its biggest majority for 40 years in the 2019 election and had overseen a “huge realignment in U.K. politics” in terms of Brexit as well as overseeing Britain’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic and support for Ukraine, saying that it was “mission largely accomplished — for now.”
Johnson also had some advice to his successor — with either his former Finance Minister Rishi Sunak or Foreign Secretary Liz Truss set to be elected by the Conservative Party membership, with the winner announced on Sept. 5 — saying, “I want to use the last few seconds to give some words of advice to my successor, whoever he or she may be.”
Here were Johnson’s five nuggets of wisdom:
1) ‘Stay close to the Americans’
Johnson’s first bit of advice was to maintain the U.K.’s cherished “special relationship” with the U.S., particularly as both countries look to support Ukraine, and Britain looks to cement a trade deal with the U.S.
Johnson and President Joe Biden appeared to be relaxed in each others’ company, with the pair seen joking together at various recent meetings of global leaders such as the G-7 and NATO summits.
The Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the US President Joe Biden in Carbis Bay Cornwall after their meeting ahead of the G7 Summit June 10, 2021.
Andrew Parsons | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
On hearing of Johnson’s resignation as Tory party leader last month, Biden issued a statement in which he said “close cooperation” between the countries would continue, particularly when it comes to supporting Ukraine, although he did not reference Johnson or his departure.
2) ‘Stick up for the Ukrainians’
Alongside the U.S., Britain has unarguably been Ukraine’s staunchest supporter and defender when it comes to sending weapons to Kyiv to help it battle Russia’s invasion, and imposing a raft of sanctions on Russia following its unprovoked aggression.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson walk at the Independence Square after a meeting, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Kyiv, Ukraine April 9, 2022.
Ukrainian Presidential Press Service | Reuters
Johnson was one of the first Western leaders to visit Kyiv in the midst of the conflict, a bold move since repeated by other leaders and by Johnson, who last visited the Ukrainian capital in June.
When addressing Ukraine’s Parliament, Johnson evoked Britain’s wartime spirit, known as the “Blitz spirit” when it faced Nazi bombs during World War II, to encourage Ukrainians to carry on.
Contrary to more divided public sentiment at home, Johnson has become a popular figure in Ukraine due to U.K. support for the country in its hour of need.
3) ‘Cut taxes and deregulate’
Johnson’s third nugget of advice was a bit of a jab at the Treasury, Britain’s finance ministry that was headed by Sunak, who is now one of two contenders vying to replace Johnson.
It was no secret that there were tensions between 10 Downing Street and the Treasury with Johnson advocating lower taxes and more borrowing while Sunak has recently raised taxes and argued that borrowing must be reined in.
Former British finance minister Rishi Sunak won the most votes in the second round of voting.
Leon Neal | Getty Images
“Cut taxes and deregulate wherever you can to make this the greatest place to live and invest, which it is,” Johnson said, adding: “I love the Treasury, but remember that if we had always listened to the Treasury, we would not have built the M25 or the Channel Tunnel,” referencing massive, costly infrastructure projects that revolutionized British transport routes around London, and to the continent.
4) ‘Focus on the road ahead’
Carrying on a theme of transport, Johnson’s next bit of advice was to “focus on the road ahead, but always remember to check the rear-view mirror,” which raised a laugh from lawmakers on Wednesday.
It’s difficult to know what Johnson was referring to exactly but the phrase echoes one of Johnson’s key struggles in government in recent months when it was plagued by accusation after accusation of rule breaking.
As more reports emerged of parties in Downing Street, and in other government ministries, during Covid lockdowns, Johnson and his leadership team tried to dismiss the reports.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson makes a statement at Downing Street in London, Britain, July 7, 2022.
Henry Nicholls | Reuters
Even when an inquiry proved that parties had taken place that should not have, Johnson desperately tried to focus on the road ahead and said the public wanted to move on.
Political support for Johnson was resilient as the “partygate” scandal dragged on but, in the end, the straw that broke the camel’s back was his appointment of an official that had sexual misconduct allegations made against him, that it emerged Johnson knew about despite claiming not to.
A tide of resignations of top officials followed and despite resisting the urge to step down, Johnson relented on July 7 when he announced he would quit, setting in motion a leadership battle.
5) ‘It is not Twitter that counts; it is the people’
Johnson’s final advice to his successors, and fellow lawmakers, was to not pay too much attention to comment on social media, a digital space which is often vitriolic and destructive, or acts as an echo chamber that reinforces one’s own viewpoint.
“Remember, above all, it is not Twitter that counts; it is the people that sent us here,” Johnson said, reminding members of Parliament (MPs) to put their constituents, who elect them to their positions in the first place, at the top of their agendas.
Johnson has been the MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip since 2015 and previously for Henley from 2001 to 2008.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves after making a statement at Downing Street in London, Britain, July 7, 2022.
Peter Nicholls | Reuters
Whether Johnson will now return to a quieter life serving his constituents remains to be seen; both Rishi Sunak and Truss, when asked in a TV debate to raise their hands if they would give Johnson a job in a new Cabinet, did not do so.
While not referencing “The Terminator’s” other famous phrase — “I’ll be back” — Johnson’s parting words of “Hasta la vista, baby” or “see you later,” have led political commentators to question whether Boris Johnson, a charismatic politician who played a bit too fast and loose with the rules, plans a comeback.