Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson took office in July 2019 after winning the Conservative Party leadership election by a significant majority. He has faced many challenges in just twelve months, from a Supreme Court case to a General Election to being hospitalised with COVID-19. So, how has Boris Johnson been performing after one year in office?

1) Brexit

Boris’ big pitch since he started his leadership campaign was getting Brexit done on 31st October 2019, something he’d rather die in a ditch than delay. After a series of events leading up to the October deadline, including bringing the new deal to the House of Commons, the UK did not leave on time. Boris had missed this all-important deadline, but he was not defeated. The new date was set as 31st January 2020, and following the all-important General Election, the UK now finds itself in the transition period having successfully left the European Union. Even with until just the end of the year, the government remains optimistic that a deal with the EU can be signed, despite the COVID-19 crisis taking away valuable negotiating time.

2) His campaign promises

Johnson’s campaign for leadership of the Conservatives and during the General Election was all about big numbers and big promises: 20,000 new police officers, 20 hospital upgrades, full-fibre internet. Have these aims been achieved?

  • The government has said they aim to have recruited 20,000 police officers by Spring 2023. So far, over 3,000 have been recruited in England and Wales. However, the full number of 20,000 was promised by the end of 2022, so this target may be missed.
  • Hospital upgrades have been given the go-ahead to begin, despite coronavirus taking a huge toll on the NHS budget for 2020.
  • Ofcom has said that the progress in upgrading the UK’s broadband network is ‘promising’, with 3.5m homes now equipped with fibre technology. However, the recent decision to ban Huawei from the UK 5G network will undoubtedly slow the upgrade to mobile devices.

3) The Supreme Court

At the end of August last year, Johnson announced that Parliament was to be prorogued for five weeks. Johnson defended the decision as having his own Queen’s Speech to lay out his aims; opposition MPs and the Speaker John Bercow said that its only purpose was to force Brexit through by the end of October. The matter was escalated through the courts, with the Court of Session stating it was unlawful. The High Court then threw the case out, stating that it was not unconstitutional for the prorogation to take place. Finally, the Supreme Court (the highest court in the land) unanimously declared the move unlawful, meaning that the Prime Minister had acted outside of the law.

4) The Christmas Election

The first Christmas Election in over 100 years resulted from the stalemate in Parliament as MPs continued to battle over Brexit and Johnson’s plans. Boris’ famous catchphrase “Get Brexit Done” resonated across the country with voters who felt disenfranchised and unrepresented by their MPs. The decision to also remove 21 non-Brexit supporting MPs from the party further highlighted division within the party that Johnson was keen to remove. The election campaign seemed undecided by many, but the exit poll suggested a massive majority for Johnson. With an 80-seat majority and 365 members on the government side, Johnson had won his first General Election with an outstanding result. Labour suffered their worst defeat in decades, with many analysts suggesting distaste with Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and the neutrality of their Brexit policy as reasons Labour seats swung with enormous volume to the Tory’s.

5) Coronavirus

COVID-19 emerged in China in December 2019, and while media coverage was limited, to begin with, it soon spiralled into a global pandemic with seemingly every country in the world affect to a large degree. Johnson took decisive action to close schools, pubs, offices and leisure facilities and ordered everyone to stay home. The decision to pay 80% of wages for companies that couldn’t afford to keep staff on, along with the Eat Out to Help Out schemes showed Johnson’s care for wanting to keep the economy running and limit the monetary damage from COVID-19 as much as possible. Critics say Johnson acted too late, supporters say Johnson acted as far within reason as possible.

Questions

  • What was Boris Johnson’s biggest success in his first year? Why?
  • Was Johnson right to delay Brexit?
  • Why did Johnson win such a big majority in the 2019 election?

Exam Questions:

Edexcel: Evaluate the extent to which the 2019 General Election was won by the appearance of the party leader. [30]
AQA: ‘Style rather than policy is more important to the success of a Prime Minister.’ Analyse and evaluate this statement. [25]