Boris Johnson took over
as Britain’s prime minister on Wednesday,
vowing to break the
impasse that defeated his predecessor by leading the country
out of the European Union and
silencing “the doubters, the
doomsters, the gloomsters”
who believe it can’t be done.
But the brash Brexit champion faces the same problems
that flummoxed Theresa May
during her three years in office:
heading a government without
a parliamentary majority and
with most lawmakers opposed
to leaving the EU without a divorce deal.
Johnson has just 99 days to
make good on his promise to
deliver Brexit by October 31 after what he called “three years
of unfounded self-doubt.”
He optimistically pledged to
get “a new deal, a better deal”
with the EU than the one secured by May, which was repeatedly rejected by Britain’s Parliament.
The people who bet against
Britain are going to lose their
shirts,” he said, standing outside the shiny black door of 10
Trying to avoid the political
divisions that plagued May, Johnson swept out many of her
ministers to make way for his
own team, dominated by loyal
Brexiteers. He appointed Sajid
Javid to the key role of Treasury
chief, named staunch Brexit
supporter Dominic Raab as foreign secretary and made Priti
Patel the new home secretary.
Michael Gove, who ran the 2016
campaign to leave the EU alongside Johnson, also got a Cabinet
Over half of May’s Cabinet is
gone, including ex-foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, Johnson’s
defeated rival for the Tory leadership, who said he had turned
down the chance to stay in government in a different job.
In his first speech as prime
minister, Johnson unleashed a
scattershot spray of promises
— from more police on the
streets to ending a ban on genetically modified crops to faster
To the many critics of the polarising politician who find the
phrase “Prime Minister Boris
Johnson” jarring, it was typical
of a verbal vim that is not always
wedded to hard facts.
For the 55-year-old Johnson,
walking into the Downing
Street residence was the culmination of a life’s ambition. The
flamboyant, Latin-spouting former London mayor and foreign
secretary helped lead the 2016
campaign to get Britain out of
the EU and is now the darling of
Brexit backers who feel frustrated that, three years later, the
country is still in the bloc.
Judging by his words on Wednesday, Johnson’s approach to
the EU will be a mix of charm
and threats. He vowed to keep
relations with the EU “as warm
and as close and as affectionate
as possible” and promised the
three million EU nationals in
Britain “absolute certainty” that
they can stay. May made the
same promise, but it still is not
enshrined in law.
But in the next breath, Johnson said Britain might be forced to leave with no deal if
“Brussels refuses any further to
negotiate” — trying to pin the
blame for any future failure on
the bloc. That’s not an approach
likely to win the trust and confidence of EU leaders.
The EU is adamant it will not
renegotiate the agreement
struck with May on the terms of
Britain’s departure and the framework of future relations.
Without it, Britain faces a chaotic Brexit that economists warn
would disrupt trade by imposing tariffs and customs checks
between Britain and the bloc,
send the value of the pound
plummeting and plunge the UK
Chief EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said “we are ready
to listen and to work with” Johnson, but he did not budge on
the bloc’s refusal to alter the deal.
“A no-deal Brexit will never
be, never, the choice of the EU.
But we are prepared,” he said in
Brussels before Johnson spoke.
Johnson’s political opponents
accused him of offering little
more than hot air.
“Rhetoric and reality are two
different things,” said Labour
Party Brexit spokesman Keir
Scottish First Minister Nicola
Sturgeon tweeted that Johnson’s
speech was “rambling, blameshifting and, to put it mildly, somewhat divorced from reality.”
If he is to succeed, Johnson
must win over the many Britons
opposed to Brexit and resistant
to his blustering charisma.
In a sign he hopes to move
beyond the largely white, male
and affluent Conservative
members who chose him as
their leader, Johnson’s office
said his government would be a
“Cabinet for modern Britain”
with more women and a record
number of ministers from ethnic minorities.
His administration is also set
to include some pro-EU politicians, but most will be strong
Brexit supporters. One of his
senior advisers is set to be Dominic Cummings, lead strategist for the 2016 referendum.
A contentious figure, Cummings was found to be in contempt of Parliament earlier this
year for refusing to give evidence to a committee of lawmakers
investigating “fake news.”
British lawmakers are due to
start a six-week summer break
on Friday. When they return in
September, Johnson looks set
for a fight with lawmakers, a
majority of whom oppose leaving the EU without a deal.
That has led to speculation he
could call a snap election in hopes of gaining a majority in Parliament for his plans.
Johnson brings Brexit gang back together in new Cabinet
From his top Cabinet ministers down to
his communications staff, Britain’s new
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has surrounded himself with controversial figures who
helped him win the 2016 Brexit vote.
His decision to get the “Vote Leave” campaign team back together emphasises how
determined he is to take Britain out of the
European Union on October 31, even
without an agreement with Brussels.
But the reshuffle caused alarm among
MPs who oppose his “no deal” stance, while some new appointments sparked speculation he is gearing up for an election if
Parliament tries to stop him.
Johnson took over from Theresa May at
Downing Street on Wednesday, and within
minutes had sacked or forced out around a
dozen ministers, while a handful more resigned before they were pushed.
His first appointment was Dominic Cummings, a highly effective but combative
back-room operator who was Vote Leave’s
campaign director and is now a top adviser.
Johnson kept on Michael Gove, who like
the new premier is a key figurehead of the
2016 campaign, but moved him from the
environment ministry to a role coordinating “no deal” planning. Other Vote Leave
stars such as Priti Patel, Andrea Leadsom,
Dominic Raab and Theresa Villiers – some
of whom quit May’s Cabinet in protest at
her Brexit plan – have returned to senior
Campaign chief executive Matthew Elliott, who previously founded the low tax lobbying group the Taxpayers Alliance, is
also reported to be an adviser to the new
Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid.
Others were appalled, however.
Leading eurosceptic MP Jacob ReesMogg, who was appointed the government’s
minister in the House of Commons, dismissed talk of a takeover.
“To characterise it as a Vote Leave coup
is a mistake and is forgetting that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the international trade secretary were both remainers,”
he told ITV news.
Javid, a former banker, and new trade
secretary Liz Truss, however, have since
converted to the Brexit cause.