Boris Johnson is the new prime minister of the United Kingdom after beating Jeremy Hunt to being elected the new leader of the Conservative party. Johnson beat Hunt comfortably, winning nearly double as many votes as the current foreign secretary, and will officially take over the position from Theresa May tomorrow.
Johnson held a victory speech at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in London, where he made a promise of completing Brexit in time, stating “We are going to get Brexit done on 31 October and take advantage of all the opportunities it will bring with a new spirit of can do. We are once again going to believe in ourselves, and like some slumbering giant we are going to rise and ping off the guy ropes of self-doubt and negativity.”
The new PM summarised his promises into one line, saying he would “Deliver Brexit, unite the country and defeat Jeremy Corbyn“, while showing appreciation and respect to his predecessor Theresa May, saying it had been a privilege to serve in her cabinet. A number of senior figures in the government, however, have already said they will not serve under Mr Johnson, though, citing their opposition to his stance on Brexit.
Johnson’s election has not been greeted with a positive response from the European Union, as Brussels rejected the incoming British prime minister’s Brexit demands and an ominous warning by the newly appointed European Commission president about the “challenging times ahead”.
Furthermore, at a recent press conference in Brussels, Frans Timmermans, Juncker’s deputy in the commission, did not take back his recent comments in which he accused Johnson of “playing games” with Brexit, as well as adding that the new prime minister’s “character, persona, attitude” would have no bearing on the EU’s negotiating position. The Dutch former minister said, “He took a long time deciding whether he was for or against Brexit. And now his position is clear. 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. And we will hear what the new prime minister has to say when he comes to Brussels.”
Despite this, the EU also sent signals of optimism after the results of the elections were confirmed, Ursula von der Leyen, who will replace Jean-Claude Juncker on 1 November, as well as Juncker himself, sent positive messages to the new PM.
The UK is in the midst of a long period of negotiations with the EU to find an optimal economic deal for their Brexit. As things stand, the UK is due to leave the European Union at 23:00 GMT on 31 October 2019.
If the UK and EU ratify the withdrawal agreement before then, the UK will leave on the first day of the following month. Previous PM Theresa May had said many times that she wanted the UK to leave the EU as soon as possible, while the EU has said the Brexit process should not be extended again beyond 31 October 2019, but legally speaking another extension could happen if all EU countries, including the UK, agree to it.
The election of Boris Johnson as new PM looks to have mixed reactions across the EU and whether it will speed up or slow down negotiations between the UK and the EU cannot be judged before their first meeting to understand the positions of both parties and whether they have changed. One thing we do know is that Boris Johnson will insist on the economic terms May put forward as well as adding his own.
This insistence could be detrimental to negotiations, as the EU has already shown it would not accept them, which could lead to a no deal Brexit. If Johnson wants to keep the promises made at the Queen Elizabeth II centre today, he will need to make several compromises.