Boris Johnson has won the Conservative Party leadership race and will be the next British Prime Minister. After defeating his opponent, Jeremy Hunt, with almost double the votes from party members, Johnson must wait until Theresa May officially meets the Queen to tender her resignation tomorrow. But what will this new PM inherit? And what implications does his ascension have for international relation?
The Brexit Question
Touted as the Man Who Will Deliver Brexit, Johnson has not always been a supporter of leaving the EU. In the early days of the referendum campaign in 2016, both sides of the debate were keen for him to throw his weight behind their cause. Finally, he opted for the side of Leave, yet his initial hesitation has many Brexiteers worrying that his stance on leaving the union by October 31 could be little more than political posturing to win the top spot.
However, his acceptance speech in the Queen Elizabeth II Centre delivered real red meat to his support base and Brexit supporters across the nation:
“Today at this pivotal moment in our history we again have to reconcile two sets of instincts, two noble sets of instincts, between the deep desire of friendship and free trade and mutual support in security and defence between Britain and our European partners, and the simultaneous desire – equally deep and heartfelt – for democratic self-government in this country.
And, of course, there are some people who say that they are irreconcilable, and it just can’t be done. And indeed, I read in my Financial Times this morning… that no incoming leader has ever faced such a daunting set of circumstances.
Well I look at you this morning and ask: Do you look daunted?
I don’t think you look remotely daunted. I think we can do it and I think the people of this country are trusting in us to do it and we know that we will do it.
And we know the mantra of the campaign that just went by – it is deliver Brexit, unite the country, and defeat Jeremy Corbyn. And that’s what we’re going to do.”
Very few Prime Ministers have ever entered office with such an array of tasks before them. Johnson, being a high energy and optimistic leader, may be just the man for the job. He served as a Member of Parliament for several years before stepping down to become the Mayor of London – a position he won twice to great acclaim worldwide. After returning to parliament as an MP for Uxbridge, he was soon promoted to the front bench as Foreign Secretary.
In July 2018, he resigned from the Foreign Secretary position over clashes with Theresa May and her stance towards Brexit, which he described as leading the UK into a “semi-Brexit” and giving the country little more that the “status of a colony.”
The EU’s Chief Brexit Negotiator, Michel Barnier, tweeted his congratulations while making a suggestion that Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement would be the path towards Brexit. He wrote:
“We look forward to working constructively w/ PM @BorisJohnson when he takes office, to facilitate the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement and achieve an orderly #Brexit. We are ready also to rework the agreed Declaration on a new partnership in line with #EUCO guidelines.”
Yet the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) has already been defeated by Parliament on three separate occasions, leading directly to the resignation of Theresa May. It also appears to be the least desirable Brexit option among the voting public; Remainers and Leavers alike have voiced concerns that such an agreement would leave the UK at the mercy of the EU without retaining any of the power of full membership.
To the public and politicians, the WA is a poisoned chalice that will all but guarantee Johnson becomes one of the shortest-serving Prime Ministers in modern history.
Boris and Trump
Shortly after the results were announced, President Trump tweeted his congratulations, writing: “Congratulations to Boris Johnson on becoming the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. He will be great!” Echoing earlier statements in which he showed tacit support for a Johnson leadership bid.
Johnson has, in recent years, made efforts to support the president as the leader of the UK’s largest ally. The two men appear to have similarities in terms of their outspoken opinion, unwillingness to back down, and appreciation for people power.
Boris Johnson has often been called “the British Trump.” Whether he lives up to this moniker or not remains to be seen. But early sounds from both sides of the Atlantic suggest that this could be the start of a productive new alliance.
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