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George Lyon: We need a prime minister who puts the country’s interests first

Boris Johnson pulls a Salers bull during a visit to an Aberdeenshire farm in 2019.
Boris Johnson pulls a Salers bull during a visit to an Aberdeenshire farm in 2019.

When I first sat down to write this column, I was a little nervous as I had no idea what the end of the story might be.

The Chancellor and the Health Secretary had just resigned accusing prime minister Boris Johnson of a lack of integrity and failing to be honest with the public about the tough economic choices facing our country.

A slow trickle of junior ministers had thrown the towel in as they could not stomach the prime minister’s bare-faced lying about what he knew of the previous sexual allegations against Christopher Pincher MP.

For most prime ministers this would have been a mortal blow.

But not Johnson.

Ploughing on he claimed he had a job to get on with and insisted he was staying.

It seemed as if nothing could shame him no matter how many times he was caught lying or evading the truth.

Over the months since partygate, he had become a figure of fun on social media, ridiculed when you mention his name and an embarrassment to those who voted for him.

His authority had drained away as every policy announcement he made was seen as a blatant attempt to keep him in a job rather than do what was best for the country.

He really believed you could have your cake and eat it as he famously claimed when challenged on the economic cost of Brexit.

His answer to every problem was to throw more public money at it while in the same breath promising tax cuts.

Former Chancellor Rishi Sunak.

As former chancellor Rishi Sunak said in his resignation letter: “People know that if something is too good to be true then it is not true.”

By Wednesday Johnson appeared to be living in a parallel universe as he insisted, he would fight on as PM despite the avalanche of ministerial resignations.

By Thursday morning the game was up.

He resigned in a speech that was so typical of Johnson – he blamed everyone else for his demise and accepted no responsibility for the catalogue of self-inflicted errors that led to his resignation.

The country is for now left in limbo with a lame duck prime minister clinging on by his fingertips until the Tories elect a new leader.

Many people have said to me over the years “you politicians you are all in it for yourselves”.

Yet in my experience nothing could be further from the truth.

The vast majority of politicians I have met, or worked with, were ordinary people who sought election because they passionately wanted to help people.

And they always strived to do what was best for our country.

Johnson was the exception.

From day one his burning ambition was to be prime minister.

Every move he made was to further that ambition.

Even his famous decision to back Brexit was chosen not because he believed it was the best outcome for the country but because it gave him the best opportunity to reach the top.

There is no obvious standout candidate to succeed him but whoever takes over will have to find solutions to the most challenging economic circumstances the country has faced since the 1970s.

Food prices are rising every day.

Inflation is spiralling out of control, energy and food prices are skyrocketing and economists are predicting the UK will be in a recession by the end of the year.

People are facing a cost-of-living squeeze, with many struggling to feed their families and heat their homes.

If that was not enough the new leader will have to repair the toxic and poisonous legacy of Johnson’s relationship with the European leaders.

Speak to any of the senior politicians in Brussels and they will tell you that it was a waste of time negotiating with Johnson as you could never trust him to deliver what he promised.

Although he got Brexit done, none of the benefits he promised have come to fruition.

The great trade deal with the US is dead in the water and the bonfire of EU regulations has never been lit.

Instead, the Brexit deal has caused friction and extra cost everywhere you look.

Even simple things like families heading to the sun for a holiday face long queues at immigration control to get their passport stamped.

Alongside them EU citizens sail through with barely a glance from immigration officers.

Johnson’s hard Brexit also put the future of the United Kingdom at risk.

His toxicity in Scotland was a gift to the SNP and their never-ending pursuit of independence.

George Lyon says dislike for Boris Johnson in Scotland has given support to the SNP’s campaign for independence.

The Northern Ireland Protocol with its border down the Irish sea – which he promised he would never agree to – has put the Good Friday agreement at risk.

His proposal to unilaterally re-write the protocol was bound to lead to an all-out trade war with Europe.

It would be UK farmers who would pay the price as UK lamb exports would be a prime target in any trade dispute.

Thankfully, the story does have a happy ending.

He has gone.

But can we please have a successor who is a serious politician who will put the country’s interests first.

George Lyon is a former MEP and a former president of NFU Scotland. He is a senior consultant for Hume Brophy.

Key moments in Boris Johnson’s colourful life