Boris Johnson gave a defiant speech outside Downing Street on Tuesday morning on his final day as UK prime minister before handing over to new Tory party leader Liz Truss.
Johnson and Truss will meet the Queen at her Balmoral estate in Scotland — although they will fly in separate planes — to formalise the new regime after a gruelling leadership race over the summer.
Truss will return to London to make a speech at about 4pm from Downing Street and will then start announcing cabinet members. Kwasi Kwarteng is expected to be appointed chancellor, with James Cleverly tipped to be foreign secretary and Suella Braverman home secretary.
Truss will also move fast to address the energy crisis facing the country — a relief package that could cost up to £100bn was discussed on Monday night by energy executives and Jacob Rees-Mogg, earmarked to be next business secretary.
The new prime minister is expected as early as Thursday to announce the plans under which a price freeze will protect households and businesses from the soaring cost of energy — with ministers effectively setting the unit price of power. The cost of the scheme would be paid back either through consumer bills or taxation over the long term.
In his leaving speech, Johnson reeled off a list of his administration’s achievements and promised to give his wholehearted support to the new Truss administration.
Johnson, who was a central figure in the 2016 campaign to take Britain out of the EU, led the Conservative party to a historic victory in the 2019 general election by seizing swaths of former Labour heartlands which had voted for Brexit.
But he was forced to announce he would quit in July after a string of scandals, including police fines for parties held at 10 Downing Street during Covid-19 lockdowns.
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On Tuesday morning he said that he would support “every step of the way” Truss, who on Monday beat Rishi Sunak to emerge as party leader.
“I’m like one of those booster rockets that has fulfilled its function and I will be gently re-entering the atmosphere and splashing down invisibly in some remote, obscure corner of the Pacific,” he said.
“Like Cincinnatus I am returning to my plough and will be offering this government nothing but the most fervent support.”
Some historians believe that Cincinnatus — despite his famous plough quote — later made a comeback as ruler, a fact that classics graduate Johnson will have been aware of.
Johnson did not dwell on the host of complex dilemmas facing his successor, which range from soaring inflation and an expected recession to a wave of strikes.
Instead, he chose to focus on positive points, saying that private sector investment was “flooding in” and unemployment was at its lowest level for half a century. “We got this economy moving again, despite the opposition and the naysayers.”
He declared that he had left the economy strong enough to enable the new administration to give people “the cash they need” to get through the energy crisis.
“If Putin thinks he can succeed by bullying or blackmailing the British people he is utterly deluded,” he said.
He said his government had “got Brexit done”, carried out the fastest Covid vaccine rollout in Europe, started work on high-speed rail lines and delivered early supplies of weapons to the Ukrainian government soon after Russia’s invasion.
“That may have changed the course of the biggest European war for decades,” he said.
Although the speech was largely upbeat Johnson could not resist a final dig at the Tory MPs who had brought him down in July despite him winning a vote of confidence early in the year.
“The baton will be handed over in what has unexpectedly turned out to be a relay race . . . they changed the rules halfway through, but never mind that now,” he said.