So, the Conservative government is riding high. Mr. Johnson’s approval ratings, 29 points below the opposition Labour Party leader’s in September, are now 10 points ahead, and his party is stretching its lead in the polls.
The E.U.’s travails have only sweetened the Conservative Party’s success. For a government that was elected at the end of 2019 to “Get Brexit Done,” and a country that officially left the E.U. just a couple of months before recording its first cases of Covid-19, Britain’s comparative speed has played perfectly into the Brexiteers’ caricature of an inept and inefficient bloc. In one fraught exchange, in which the E.U. threatened to block vaccines destined for Britain, only to back down and then falsely claim the vaccine wasn’t particularly effective anyway, it also surrendered any moral high ground that remained. A leading liberal German newspaper, Die Welt, called its actions “the best advert for Brexit.”
Conservatives have encouraged Britons to make the same connection. Matt Hancock, the health secretary, claimed that Britain’s regulatory speed was “because of Brexit” (the regulator denied this), and David Davis, the former Brexit secretary, was even blunter: “If you wanted a single demonstration of why Brexit was important, you’ve got it.”
Given Britain’s high death toll, and the worst recession in the Group of 7, Brexiteers might hope for a better demonstration of their cause. Even now we are continuing in one of the longest and strictest national lockdowns in Europe (only after March 8 will we be allowed to meet someone outside for a “coffee or a picnic” in England). But it’s easy to see how thanks to the vaccine, the nightmare of the pandemic will be absorbed into their favorite Churchillian myth: as yet another test of national resolve where the country stood alone, endured, suffered and ultimately led the way out of the darkness.
The pandemic has proved useful in other ways, too, by keeping public attention off the immediate problems caused by Brexit, like disrupted supply chains and shortages in supermarkets, and making the economic consequences of Brexit less visible, even if those will last longer.
Mr. Johnson is known for his Teflon qualities, and the pandemic could prove to be the definitive case. His errors have been blatant, repetitive and costly, but a triumphant vaccine rollout has put a spring in his step.
After an annus horribilis, Mr. Johnson is enjoying his finest hour — and he will be hard to stop.