Boris Johnson makes a statement at Downing Street. / REUTERS

The art of resignation

Boris Johnson has seen his power slip away from him in just a week

NEIL HESKETH

A week is a long time in politics. This time seven days ago Boris Johnson had just returned from Spain after proudly exercising power with other leaders at a Nato summit in Madrid. A week later, he has seen that power slip away from him.

There was a moment at last week’s summit ahead of a dinner at Madrid’s astonishing Prado art museum when Johnson was seen wandering off alone to admire the collection of paintings. He is a well-known student of classics and, as a journalist, frequently drew parallels between history and day-to-day life. It is not recorded what he made of the works his gaze settled on. But if Boris had been reading the room, some clues to the next seven days and his fate would have been there among the most famous works.

Setting the scene would have been Renaissance masterpiece, The Garden of Earthly Delights, by Hieronymus Bosch, perhaps hung not too far away from Diego Velázquez’s, The Triumph of Bacchus.

There is also, among the top works, Saturn Devouring His Son by Francisco Goya. It depicts a Greek myth in which Saturn eats one of his sons because he fears he will overthrow him - for sons read Cabinet Ministers. And dramatically, Goya’s The Third of May 1808, a terribly famous painting in Spain which is a bloody portrayal of Napoleonic troops executing the patriots. Not to mention Rubens' Three Graces, the link to which in this tale we shall leave to the imagination. Indeed, the writing did appear to be on the wall for Boris Johnson in Madrid last week.

And just as Boris was a passing observer last week at the Prado, we British citizens in southern Spain have been mere observers the last few days of life imitating art far away in Whitehall, more resigned than ever. It has all seemed like a bit of a haze, happening in a country that feels all that bit more foreign - and alien- since Brexit.

Without the fine print ready yet on how we will be voting again in a British general election (should one happen soon); with many of us without the right to drive in Spain; with a deal on Gibraltar’s future with the EU - so important to many - still not done, there is a real sense of unfinished business.

The huge disappointment felt by everyone, from Johnson himself to his fiercest opponents, over “what might have been” is felt here too, south of the Pyrenees.

Whichever side you are on - a rejoicer at Boris going, or a supporter (still, or at one time) - we must all hope that whoever comes next will, this time, get the job done for us in Spain and Gibraltar.