Nine days in paradise: PM looks to project power on the international stage

By Harry Brown

When Boris Johnson woke on Friday morning, his already weakened position had perhaps taken its biggest hit yet.

Two key by-election defeats in the safe Conservative seat of Tiverton and Honiton and Wakefield’s 2019 red wall coup had once again sent shockwaves through the Conservative Party. This was swiftly followed by a scathing resignation letter from then Party Chairman and former Johnson loyalist Oliver Dowden MP.

Furthermore, it wasn’t just that the PM had lost two by-elections; it was the nature of these defeats. Losing two very contrasting seats poses significant challenges for the government as they look to protect their heartlands in the south and maintain their gains in the north.

The scale of the defeats was particularly alarming, with the loss in Tiverton representing the biggest overturn in by-election history. The Conservatives saw a seat won in 2019 by over 24,000 votes wiped out by the Lib Dems.

Critics of the PM were naturally calling his position untenable and undoubtedly, the rebels, of whom there are many, and voted against Johnson in a confidence vote earlier the month, would have felt incentivised to double down in their efforts to oust the PM.

However, despite the apparent political turmoil at home, the PM was nowhere to be seen. Instead Boris Johnson had just set off an overseas trip totalling nine days which will see the PM fly from Rwanda and the bi-annual Commonwealth meeting to the G7 summit in the Bavarian Countryside before concluding his journey with the NATO summit that is being held in Madrid.

Some would say this is a well-timed foray abroad for the PM as he looks to deal in his strongest currency, his response to Ukraine.

Again though, it hasn’t all been plain sailing for the PM. The sounds coming out of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting have been mixed, with many member nations grappling with the place of the monarchy and many others forging connections with powers such as China and the United Arab Emirates.

Despite Foreign Secretary Liz Truss’s best efforts to persuade Commonwealth nations to pivot away from having ever closer ties to China, the backdrop to this meeting was a UK government that has slashed its foreign aid budget and investment in Africa to its lowest level in years.

This was swiftly followed by a G7 Summit where the Prime Minister was looking to take the lead on Ukraine. So far, the headlines coming out of the summit indicate that the G7 powers seem to be united in their commitment to back Ukraine in the long term despite the very evident impacts on food supplies and inflation.

The most positive aspect of the summit for Johnson has been the apparent success of the bilateral meeting between himself and French President Emmanuel Macron. Johnson had allegedly been concerned about the French appetite for a prolonged war, but it seems the UK and France are united in their resolve regarding Ukraine.

Yet despite the positives surrounding Boris Johnson’s leadership with Ukraine, the summit was playing out whilst the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol Bill was having its second reading in Parliament. The Bill has been fiercely criticised by other leaders in the G7 and will undoubtedly lead to future challenges between the UK and the European Powers.

For now though, it seems that Johnson can still take refuge on the international stage and use global issues as a distraction from his woes at home. But once the dust settles from his nine days away, the lines between domestic and international politics could get increasingly blurred.