Challenges Facing Britain’s New Prime Minister By Phillip Howard
The United Kingdom’s Conservative Party recently selected former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson as the next Prime Minister, replacing former PM Theresa May, who announced her resignation earlier this year due to the stalled negotiations in the Brexit talks. Johnson beat his successor, current Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, by a wide margin, earning 66.4 percent of eligible votes compared to Hunt’s 33.6 percent.
Johnson received words of congratulations from numerous world leaders. President Trump stated during an event in Washington that “a really good man is going to be the next prime minister of the UK now” while further adding that Johnson is going to “get it done” in reference to Brexit.
Newly elected EU chief Ursula Von der Leyen also congratulated Johnson, stating that she looks forward to working with the new PM and stated that there were “challenging times ahead” for both the UK and the EU.
During his acceptance speech, Johnson highlighted the challenges that the UK faces moving forward. “Today at this pivotal moment in our history, we again have to reconcile two sets of instincts…between the deep desire for friendship and free trade and mutual support and security and defense between Britain and our European partners, and the simultaneous desire, equally deep and heartfelt, for democratic self-government in this country,” Johnson said.
Johnson has until October 31st to negotiate an exit plan that is both agreeable to the British Parliament and the EU. Johnson has advocated for a no-deal Brexit and criticized the EU’s handling of the issue. The EU’s top negotiator, Michel Barnier, stated in an interview with the BBC back in May that “it’s not useful” to use the idea of a no-deal Brexit.
“I think that the UK side, which is well informed and competent and knows the way we work on the EU side, knew from the very beginning that we’ve never been impressed by such a threat.” Barnier explained. Conservatives in the British Parliament recently passed a measure that creates a hurdle to a no-deal Brexit.
Other issues Johnson face include the recent resignations of two top cabinet officials. Education Minister Anne Milton tweeted her resignation about a half an hour before the final results were due, stating that the UK “must leave the EU in a responsible manner.” Milton joins both International Development Secretary Rory Stewart and Justice Secretary David Gauke, who also announced their resignations in protest of Johnson’s victory.
Johnson also faces the threat of Iran, who last week seized a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz. Iran has already stated that it does not want confrontation with Johnson, but will protect itself at all costs.
Johnson has also faced attacks from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who, on the announcement of Johnson’s victory, stated he is ready to take on Johnson in a general election, if needed. Corbyn also contended that Johnson seems to be focused on passing “tax write-offs for the richest” and that Johnson should think “a bit more carefully” on his priorities.
While Johnson has recently been compared to President Trump (examples here & here), there may be tensions building between both leaders, especially in regards to Trump’s recent tweets about four freshman Democratic Congresswomen. Johnson denounced Trump’s tweets last week, calling them “totally unacceptable” while not calling the attacks racist.
It remains to be seen what a Johnson administration would look like in the British Parliament, but the next few months will be a test of his leadership.
Phillip Howard is a graduate student at Utica College