The Queen’s first prime minister was Winston Churchill. Her 14th is a Winston Churchill tribute act. So perhaps it’s no surprise that Boris Johnson’s debut performance as prime minister included a sub-Churchillian riff, extolling Britain’s readiness not to fight the Nazi menace but to cope with a no-deal exit from the European Union. “The ports will be ready and the banks will be ready and the factories will be ready and business will be ready and the hospitals will be ready,” he said, until one half-expected him to declare that we shall be ready on the beaches, we shall be ready on the landing grounds, we shall be ready in the fields and in the streets and in the hills.
But if Johnson has always wanted to be Churchill, the address he delivered on the steps of Downing Street and his first exercise of raw prime ministerial power suggest he wants to be two other people too. Throughout his six-week campaign for the Conservative leadership, friends and enemies alike wondered which Johnson would prevail: would it be the twice-elected mayor of London, who won over a Labour-voting, progressive city, or would it be the leader of the Vote Leave campaign, whose lies and insults have led the US president himself to hail him as the British Trump? The complexion of his first cabinet suggests victory for the latter. But there are also signs that he wants to be both, that – not for the first time – he wants to have his cake and eat it.