Boris Johnson has won the race to become the leader of Britain’s Conservative party and he’s now set to take over as Prime Minister from Theresa May on Wednesday.
The former mayor of London defeated his only rival, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, by 92,153 votes among party members to 46,656.
“We are going to energize the country. We are going to get Brexit done,” Mr. Johnson told a crowd of Tory faithful at a conference centre in London where the results were announced. “I think that we know that we can do it … and we know that we will do it. “
Mr. Johnson, 55, will immediately face a number of major challenges when he assumes office. They include resolving the Brexit dilemma and addressing the country’s escalating confrontation with Iran. And he’ll have to do that while leading a minority government and navigating a parliament that’s largely opposed to his Brexit plan.
Britain is slated to leave the European Union on Oct. 31 but there is still no withdrawal agreement or any arrangements governing future trade. Mr. Johnson has promised to leave on Halloween “come what may,” raising the the real prospect that Britain could crash out of the bloc. While he has insisted that he wants to reach a deal with the EU, Mr. Johnson has rejected the pact struck by Ms. May. She spent nearly two years negotiating a divorce agreement with the EU only to see it voted down by the British parliament three times. Her failure to deliver Brexit led the party to push her out as leader in May.
Mr. Johnson’s willingness to accept a no-deal departure has caused tension among many Conservative Members of Parliament. At least four current senior cabinet ministers, including the Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, are expected to resign in protest over Mr. Johnson’s strategy. One junior minister, Sir Alan Duncan, stepped down on Monday saying he had “very grave concerns that [Mr. Johnson] flies by the seat of his pants.” Another junior minister Anne Milton quit on Tuesday. They are expected to join a growing block of Tory MPs who are opposed to leaving the EU without a deal, arguing it would be damaging to the economy. Some MPs have said they would consider joining with opposition parties to bring down the government in order to stop a no-deal Brexit.
The Tories don’t hold a majority of seats in the House of Commons and govern thanks to the support of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party which has 10 MPs. But even with the DUP’s support the government’s working majority is just three seats. The Tories are also widely expected to lose a by-election next week in Wales, dropping their hold on power to two seats. All of which puts Mr. Johnson in a fragile position from the day he takes office.
European leaders have also expressed dismay at Mr. Johnson’s hard line on Brexit and they have made it clear that they won’t renegotiate Ms. May’s deal. “I think the position of the EU is also clear. The United Kingdom reached an agreement with the European Union and the European Union will stick to that agreement,” Frans Timmermans, the deputy head of the European Commission, told reporters on Tuesday.
The new Prime Minister is expected to make an appeal for party unity in a series of speeches this week and he will outline more of his Brexit strategy on Friday. In an article in the Daily Telegraph on Monday, Mr. Johnson offered an upbeat assessment of Brexit and he vowed to resolve the perplexing problem of how to keep the Irish border open by using technology that is similar to what’s used along the border between Canada and the United States. “It is time this country recovered some of its can-do spirit,” he wrote. “We can come out of the EU on October 31, and yes, we certainly have the technology to do so. What we need now is the will and the drive.”
Mr. Johnson will also have to move quickly to address Britain’s growing dispute with Iran over its recent seizure of a British oil tanker and its 23-man crew. The incident came just weeks after British patrol ships seized an Iranian vessel that was suspected of violating international sanctions by delivering oil to Syria. Britain’s response to the crisis has been led by Mr. Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, but it’s unclear if he will remain in his post once Mr. Johnson takes over. On Monday Mr. Hunt called Iran’s action illegal and he announced that the UK would join a European-led mission to increase security for other ships in the region. British ships will also steer clear of Iranian waters and the Strait of Hormuz. “Let us be absolutely clear; under international law Iran had no right to obstruct the ship’s passage, let alone board her,” Mr. Hunt told the British House of Commons on Monday. “It was therefore an act of state piracy which the House will have no hesitation in condemning.”
Britain has opted not to work with the United States on the issue mainly because U.S. President Donald Trump has pulled his country out of the Iran nuclear treaty. Mr. Johnson has close ties to Mr. Trump and that policy could change once the new Tory leader becomes Prime Minister. However Mr. Johnson has expressed overall support for the Iran deal.
The Globe and Mail, July 23, 2019