LONDON — Boris Johnson has got his “Churchill moment” — but it’s not the one he meant it to be.
Saturday marks 100 days since an election victory that should have seen Johnson remembered — first and foremost — as the man who “got Brexit done.” But the British prime minister now finds himself facing a global crisis which makes the U.K.’s exit from the European Union look trivial by comparison — and his response could either secure his long-craved legacy or expose him as poorly suited for leadership when it really mattered.
In the new age of coronavirus, the other preoccupations of those first 100 days — preparing for post-Brexit trade deals; going to war with the press and the civil service; laying plans for an expensive infrastructure “revolution” — seem like the concerns of a different political epoch.
Less than two months since confirming its first cases of coronavirus (coincidentally on January 31, Brexit day) the U.K. has asked most of its population not to go out to socialize, work or go to school, put £350 billion aside in an attempt to prop up the economy, and the National Health Service is facing its biggest challenge in its 75-year history.
Johnson’s handling of the crisis is already controversial. Apparent reluctance to impose more draconian lockdown measures have already made the U.K. an outlier — many countries were quicker to force the closure of schools and public meeting places, for example — and attracted criticism from public health experts.
“He knows words have impact, as do all the other world leaders. They’re using words wisely and effectively for the greater good — and Johnson isn’t”