Boris Johnson will not be Prime Minister if the UK leaves the EU

by Ben D-T

Boris Johnson’s ambitions to be Prime Minister have been common knowledge for quite some time. He clearly believes that backing Leave is the best way of achieving his aim. I don’t agree with the idea that backing the leave campaign is a win win situation or puts him in the strongest position to be the next Tory leader. If we stay in the EU Boris Johnson won’t be Prime Minister. Here’s why.

Let’s say we vote to leave the EU. David Cameron will, almost certainly, pledge to resign and in turn trigger a a leadership contest where members of the Conservative party will pick the next Prime Minister. Cameron’s resignation will likely come at some point in 2017 after the UK has formally left the EU. It’s Tory MPs who become crucial at this point. The way the Conservative leadership election system works is that the MPs narrow down the candidates to two, and then present those two candidates to the membership. If the UK leaves the EU Boris will make it onto the ballot for members. He’ll still be riding high on a wave of popularity having been the man who picked the winning side, and Tories love winners. Tory MPs will present George Osbourne and Boris Johnson to the membership. That would be a close fight but certainly something Boris could win.

The second possible scenario is a more complex one. If we vote to stay in the EU Cameron will remain until around 2019 when he’ll resign and allow a new leader to take over for the 2020 election. Boris won’t have the bragging rights of choosing the winning side in the EU referendum. Instead it will be leadership hopefuls like George Osbourne and Theresa May who’ll have that in their lockers. The membership would still likely vote for Boris, but I don’t think he’ll make it onto the ballot. Even if Boris is given a more senior cabinet position in the intervening years between the EU referendum and the Tory leadership election, he will still be far less experienced than his rivals Osbourne and May. The Chancellor and Home Secretary will have been in their roles for almost a decade when the leadership election arrives. Who will Tory MPs want as their leader, a highly experienced and senior cabinet minister who backed the winning side in the EU referendum, or an at best Foreign Secretary who’s been in the role three years and backed the wrong side in 2016?

This all relies on the idea that the majority of Tory MPs back Remain in the referendum. As I write this there have been some claims that most will in fact back Leave. I am deeply skeptical about this. The number of Tory MPs who want to leave seems to have ballooned in the past six months, from around 50-60, to 100 and now apparently more than half. If over 50% back Leave then you can just ignore literally all of this and write me of as a fool because in that case Boris will make it onto the ballot regardless of what happens in the referendum. If, as I expect, only around 100 come out for leaving the EU then Boris will struggle to make it onto the ballot by boasting to be the Euro-skeptic in the leadership contest. Osbourne and May will have the bigger boasts of being central to the last nine years of the Tories being in government.

It’s not unprecedented for an MP with little cabinet experience to go on and win  a Tory leadership election, David Cameron did just that in 2005. However, the Conservative Party will be in a very different position in 2019 than it was in 2005. 11 years ago the Tories had lost their third successive election to Tony Blair, they needed something new, a new vision and a new face for the party. David Cameron provided this for the Conservatives and it has proved very successful for the party. In 2019 the Tories will be coming to the end of their first term of majority government in two decades. The objective in three years time will not be to present a new Tory party under a new face, it will the opposite. The aim will be to solidify and expand the Conservative grip on power and majority in Parliament. To do this you need someone who was integral to the last nine years of government, you need a George Osbourne or a Theresa May type figure. The uncertainty of a Boris Johnson led Tory party performance in a general election should, I believe, lead to Tory MPs putting Osbourne and May on the ballot.

Boris Johnson, one of the UK’s sharpest political minds, thinks he’s made the best choice for his own leadership ambitions. Should the UK leave the EU Boris will have a good chance of becoming Prime Minister. Should a majority of MPs back Brexit Boris will have a good chance of becoming Prime Minister. If the UK remains in the EU I do not believe Boris will be Prime Minister or even make it onto the leadership ballot.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Boris knows something I don’t. Maybe a majority of Tory MPs really do want to leave the EU. Maybe Boris will be our next Prime Minister regardless of all of this. Maybe Theresa May won’t even stand for the Tory leadership election. Maybe Liam Fox will be our next Prime Minister. But maybe, just maybe, I’m right.