Boris Johnson is now just hours away from realizing his lifelong dream.
On Wednesday afternoon, Johnson will visit Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, who will officially invite the new leader of the UK’s governing Conservative party to form a government.
After his short meeting with the Queen, the new prime minister and his new principal private secretary will travel back to Downing Street, where, traditionally, new PMs give a speech to the nation outside the black door of Number 10.
Before all of that, outgoing leader Theresa May will address lawmakers in the House of Commons at her last-ever session of Prime Minister’s Questions – the raucous Punch and Judy show that takes place every week that parliament sits.
Prime ministers often use their final PMQs to settle political scores and thank loyal supporters. Given the nightmare through which May has attempted to govern, people who love political theater will be hoping for a good dose of the former.
After her final address to the Commons, May will travel to Buckingham Palace and inform the Queen that she is resigning as PM.
Tradition is that May would then suggest another person who is best placed to form a government and that the Queen would invite this individual to the palace.
That’s the formal stuff, now for the politics.
After walking into Downing Street for the first time, a new prime minister has a couple of pressing issues to address. First, the civil service will brief the new leader on everything – yes, everything – they need to know for the job.
There are other tasks that need doing in the first week. From issuing instructions on what the UK’s ballistic submarines should do if London is taken out in a nuclear strike, to arranging advisers and political appointments, it’s a hectic period.
More immediately, Johnson will need to get on with forming his government. Right now, no one knows who the new PM will ask to serve. During the leadership contest, he attracted admirers from across the entire Conservative party.
Rumors are wild, but the common consensus in Westminster is that more people believe they are in the running for jobs than there are vacancies. This would mean that Johnson may have to let a lot of people down in his very first week.
Whoever is appointed, it will be seen as the first sign of what kind of prime minister he intends to be, especially when it comes to Brexit.
We know that Johnson’s preferred option is a deal with Europe that is significantly different from the one that May negotiated. He is also committed to leaving without a deal on October 31, if necessary.
There are two key questions here: First, how different does that deal have to be? Second, how committed is he to no deal?
The broad Johnson coalition contains people who were consistently loyal to May’s softer approach to Brexit and, in contrast, some of the hardest Euroskeptics in the Conservative party. He has a lot of talent to pick from and the formation of his new-look government will be watched closely, both in London and Brussels.
However, this might all be academic. It’s no secret that May has left a political mess behind her. This leadership contest and the razzamatazz of Johnson’s campaign has been a bit of a distraction. There might be a new top team, but Johnson will stride into Downing Street facing many of the same problems as May.
He has no majority in the House of Commons. His party is bitterly divided over Brexit. The nation is losing trust in politicians and political institutions. The opposition Labour party is primed to bring Johnson down and force a general election. And the Europeans, with whom he hopes to negotiate a new deal, are far less trusting of Johnson than they were of May.
It may come to be that after electing such a divisive figure – for some, Johnson embodies the worst aspects of a political party loathed by a decent chunk of the population – the Conservatives find themselves fighting an early election with a leader who alienates a large number of the people who voted Remain in 2016. And remember, that victory was far from emphatic.
So, after he meets the Queen to collect his crown (not literally), Johnson has his work cut out for him. The boy who dreamed of being prime minister might find on day one that he is a weaker leader than his long-suffering predecessor. Thank goodness parliament is due to rise for the summer on Friday and not return until September.