Boris Johnson has not won a single vote in the House of Commons. He has lost his government’s majority and been accused of lying to the queen to shut down Parliament. He has made an enemy of Europe’s most powerful leader, become entangled in a scandal in which he is accused of directing public funds to a woman he was in a relationship with, and even lost the support of his own brother. His attempted renegotiation of Brexit with the European Union now stands on the brink, with EU officials warning that he may have left it too late to strike a compromise deal in time for this week’s summit in Brussels.
And yet, despite everything, an intriguing question is bubbling up in London, even among some of those predisposed to hate anything Johnson does or stands for: Is he winning?
Johnson became prime minister in July with Britain mired in deadlocked talks over its exit from the EU. He had promised to do something the EU would not do for Theresa May: reopen the painstakingly negotiated withdrawal agreement setting the terms of the divorce between Britain and the EU in order to make it more palatable for his Conservative Party and its parliamentary allies. In fact, Johnson didn’t just want to change the withdrawal agreement; he also wanted to scrap the most contentious part of it, the “backstop,” a controversial legal mechanism that would have seen the whole of the United Kingdom remain beholden to EU customs rules until a permanent new relationship was agreed on after Brexit.