Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson won the race to become Britain’s next prime minister yesterday, heading straight into a confrontation over Brexit with Brussels and parliament, as well as a tense diplomatic stand-off with Iran.
The former London mayor easily beat his rival, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, in a vote of grassroots members of the governing Conservative Party. He is expected to be confirmed as prime minister today when outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May formally tenders her resignation to Queen Elizabeth II.
Johnson radiated optimism in a brief victory speech to hundreds of party members and lawmakers, pledging to “deliver Brexit, unite the country and defeat Jeremy Corbyn,” leader of the opposition Labour Party. “I say to all the doubters: ‘Dude, we are going to energize the country, we are going to get Brexit done,’” said Johnson, a former London mayor.
After addressing Conservative MPs privately following his victory, Johnson told reporters he was “impatient”. His government will command a majority of just two: 320 votes to 318 in parliament’s lower House of Commons. Colleagues who disagree with Johnson are willing to give him a chance to get a Brexit deal, at least over parliament’s impending six-week summer recess.
But Johnson, known for his jokes and bluster, is taking over at a time of immense political upheaval. Although parliament dislikes May’s deal, Johnson faces significant opposition from MPs to his threat to leaving with no deal, including from Conservative colleagues.
Several ministers said they will not serve under Johnson, warning that severing ties overnight with Britain’s closest trading partner is deeply irresponsible. But Johnson insisted he could change the atmosphere in parliament, saying: “Like some slumbering giant we are going to rise and ping off the guy ropes of self-doubt and negativity.”
Three years after the referendum vote to leave the European Union, Britain remains a member amid continued wrangling in a divided parliament on how to proceed.
Johnson led the referendum “Leave” campaign and after May delayed Brexit twice, insists the latest deadline must be met, with or without a divorce agreement with the EU. “We’re going to get Brexit done on October 31,” he declared in a speech to party members in London, after winning 66 percent of almost 140,000 votes cast.
However, Brussels says it will not renegotiate the deal it struck with May to ease the end of a 46-year partnership even after British MPs rejected it three times.