Boris Johnson’s downfall also marks Brexit’s final act

As ethical failings piled up, Boris Johnson, who studied the classics at Balliol College at Oxford University, embraced the Iliad’s moral code. “He thinks in classic terms,” said an MP in the London Time. “For him, there is no greater honor in resigning than to be killed… if you are going to die, go down fighting.

It was long enough. Ultimately, Johnson’s ending owes more to Homer Simpson than to Homer, the ancient Greek author. He did not fight but was dragged into denial. There was no honor in his disappearance; he was actually shot by his own troops in his own bunker.

As has so often been the case with Johnson, it was a potent combination of sex, booze and lies that brought him to the brink. Last week, Conservative Deputy Chief Whip Chris Pincher resigned after admitting “[drinking] way too much” in a private club and “embarrass[ing himself] and other people. It was alleged that he groped two men. This wasn’t the first time Pincher had been accused of sexual misconduct. Johnson insisted for several days that he was unaware of Pincher’s past, although it emerged that he had dubbed him “Pincher by name, pincher by nature.” When a retired civil servant released a public letter on July 5 saying he had personally informed Johnson of Pincher’s behavior a few years earlier, the dam broke. After Partygate, two dramatic special election defeats and the resignation of its ethics counsellor, it was one lie too many. Two senior ministers – the chancellor and the health secretary – have resigned, citing a lack of integrity and competence. Massive desertion followed. Sixteen ministers marched on the same day. One of the waning group of Johnson loyalists was cut off on the radio three times by news of new resignations even as he pleaded for Johnson to stay.

The recent outrage over Johnson’s behavior should be understood as a matter of policy rather than principle. His disregard for the truth, his narcissistic behavior and his utter disregard for convention were not just new: they were his calling cards. “When people show you who they are for the first time,” said Maya Angelou, “believe them. Johnson had shown us again and again and again. It was only when he became a clear political and electoral liability that such blatant misconduct became a problem for his fellow Tories.

Johnson then phoned those who had not resigned, one by one, as Thatcher had done, believing they would be less likely to turn him down individually than as a group. These are the people who were closest to him, both politically and personally. And as was the case with Thatcher, even individually, most of them told him he should go. Yet he refused to budge.

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