To a standing ovation from his recently mutinous MPs, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson bowed out of his final setpiece event in parliament Wednesday, signing off by saying: “Hasta la vista, baby!”
But his parting shots, including the invocation of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s famous line in the “Terminator” movies, were taken by some commentators as hinting that he would be back.
With a vintage blast of invective against his critics, Johnson defended his three tumultuous years in office — from Brexit and Covid vaccines to Ukraine — and praised the candidates battling to succeed him, while fending off opposition attacks at his last session of Prime Minister’s Questions.
The House of Commons breaks for its summer recess on Thursday, and the new leader is set to be announced when it reconvenes on September 5.
Labour leader Keir Starmer quoted the bitter attacks hurled against each other by the three remaining Conservative candidates before Wednesday’s vote — Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss and Penny Mordaunt — and against their own government’s record.
Johnson’s Downing Street operation is reportedly running an “anyone but Rishi” campaign, accusing the former finance minister of having orchestrated the cabinet revolt that brought him down this month after many scandals including “Partygate”.
“I’m not following this thing particularly closely,” the prime minister said of the Tory race, to laughter.
But he said that any one of the three, “like some household detergent, would wipe the floor” with Labour.
Johnson, 58, reprised his long-running characterisation of Starmer as “Captain Hindsight” over Covid, and called him “a great pointless human bollard” standing in the way of progress for Britain.
The Conservative race has seen successive candidates eliminated in ballots among the party’s MPs.
The final two contenders — former finance minister Rishi Sunak and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss — will now take their case to grassroots Tories before the winner is announced on September 5.
– ‘Mission largely accomplished’ –
Johnson gave the contenders some words of advice, urging them to “stay close to the Americans, stick up for the Ukrainians, stick up for freedom and democracy everywhere”.
“Cut taxes and deregulate where you can to make this the greatest place to live and invest… focus on the road ahead but always remember to check the rearview mirror.
“And remember above all it’s not Twitter that counts, it’s the people that sent us here.”
Johnson said his time in office had been “the greatest privilege” of his life, reflecting on the Conservatives’ landslide victory in the 2019 election on a platform to “get Brexit done”.
“We’ve transformed our democracy and restored our national independence… I’ve helped to get this country through a pandemic and helped save another country from barbarism — and frankly that’s enough to be going on with.
“Mission largely accomplished, for now,” he said, before departing to a standing ovation by nearly every Tory MP present.
The prime minister he deposed, Theresa May, was an exception. She got to her feet very slowly, and failed to clap.
After Downing Street, Johnson is expected to resume a lucrative life of book writing, journalism, and after-dinner speeches.
Johnson’s press secretary denied that the prime minister was already eyeing a political comeback.
“It was his way of saying farewell,” she said, although some local Conservative associations are reportedly pressing to insert Johnson’s name on the leadership ballot as a protest at his eviction.
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