John­son faces Brexit test as new UK PM

The Prince George Citizen - - News -

Boris John­son, Britain’s blus­ter­ing Brexit cam­paigner, was cho­sen as the U.K.’s next prime min­is­ter on Tues­day, with a re­sound­ing man­date from the Con­ser­va­tive Party but con­flict­ing de­mands from a po­lit­i­cally di­vided coun­try.

John­son is set to be­come prime min­is­ter on Wed­nes­day af­ter win­ning an elec­tion to lead the gov­ern­ing Con­ser­va­tives. He will have just over three months to make good on his prom­ise to lead the U.K. out of the Euro­pean Union by Oct. 31.

Famed for his bravado, quips in Latin and blond mop of hair, John­son eas­ily de­feated Con­ser­va­tive ri­val Jeremy Hunt, win­ning two-thirds of the votes of about 160,000 party mem­bers across the U.K. He will be­come prime min­is­ter once Queen El­iz­a­beth II for­mally asks him to form a gov­ern­ment, re­plac­ing Theresa May.

The em­bat­tled May an­nounced her resignatio­n last month af­ter Par­lia­ment re­peat­edly re­jected the with­drawal agree­ment she struck with the 28-na­tion bloc, leav­ing Britain stranded in Brexit limbo. The U.K.’s de­par­ture from the EU was de­layed from its long sched­uled exit in March.

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 and Bri­tish for­eign sec­re­tary.

In a sign he hopes to move beyond the largely white, male and af­flu­ent Con­ser­va­tive Party mem­bers who chose him as their leader, John­son’s of­fice said he will put to­gether a “Cab­i­net for mod­ern Britain,” with a record num­ber of eth­nic-mi­nor­ity law­mak­ers.

Hunt, a stolid politi­cian com­pared to the flam­boy­ant John­son, said he was sure his ri­val would “do a great job.”

“He’s got op­ti­mism, en­thu­si­asm, he puts a smile on people’s face and he has to­tal, un­shak­able con­fi­dence in our amaz­ing coun­try,” said Hunt, who is likely to be re­moved as for­eign sec­re­tary by the new prime min­is­ter.

John­son wooed Con­ser­va­tives by promis­ing to suc­ceed where May had failed and lead the U.K. out of the EU – with or with­out a di­vorce deal.

John­son in­sists he can get the EU to rene­go­ti­ate, some­thing the bloc in­sists it won’t do. If not, he says Britain must leave the EU by the Oct. 31 dead­line, “come what may.”

The EU is adamant that the deal with May will stand, say­ing Britain has to take it or leave it.

Michel Barnier, the bloc’s chief Brexit ne­go­tia­tor, said he looked for­ward “to work­ing con­struc­tively” with the new Con­ser­va­tive leader “to fa­cil­i­tate the rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the With­drawal Agree­ment.”

Economists warn that a nodeal Brexit would dis­rupt trade and plunge the U.K. into re­ces­sion. Fears that Britain is inch­ing closer to crash­ing out of the bloc weighed on the pound once again Tues­day. The cur­rency was down an­other 0.3 per cent at $1.2450, nearly a two-year low.

Carolyn Fair­bairn, di­rec­tor of the Con­fed­er­a­tion of Bri­tish In­dus­try, said busi­nesses needed a with­drawal agree­ment with the EU to re­store con­fi­dence that has been badly shaken by un­cer­tainty about the terms of Brexit.

“On Brexit, the new prime min­is­ter must not un­der­es­ti­mate the ben­e­fits of a good deal,” she said.

John­son faces a host of other chal­lenges, from deal­ing with Iran’s seizure of a Bri­tish-flagged oil tanker to forg­ing a re­la­tion­ship with U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, but Brexit is his over­rid­ing prob­lem.

Trump was scathing about May’s in­abil­ity to achieve a Brexit deal and has said John­son will do a bet­ter job.

On Tues­day he said John­son “is go­ing to do a good job” and “will get it done.”

“We have a re­ally good man is go­ing to be prime min­is­ter of the U.K. now, Boris John­son,” Trump told a youth con­fer­ence. “Good man. He’s tough and he’s smart.”

White House eco­nomic ad­viser Larry Kud­low de­scribed John­son as “a breath of fresh air. I think he’ll com­plete the Brexit process.”

More than three years af­ter Britain nar­rowly voted to leave the EU, the coun­try re­mains di­vided over whether to leave, and on what terms.

John­son won the lead­er­ship contest by per­suad­ing Con­ser­va­tive mem­bers, who are strongly pro-Brexit, that Britain will leave the bloc “do or die.”

Op­po­nents say John­son is reck­less on Brexit and un­re­pen­tant about of­fen­sive and racist com­ments, such as call­ing Pa­pua New Guineans can­ni­bals and com­par­ing Mus­lim women who wear face-cov­er­ing veils to “let­ter boxes.”

Op­po­si­tion Lib­eral Demo­crat law­maker Chuka Umunna tweeted: “I cannot think of a Tory lead­er­ship can­di­date more un­fit to be­come the Prime Min­is­ter of this coun­try than Boris John­son,” adding that his elec­tion was “a dark and de­press­ing time for the U.K.”

Tony Travers, pro­fes­sor of gov­ern­ment at the Lon­don School of Eco­nom­ics, said John­son might mod­er­ate his Brexit stance now that he has se­cured the pre­mier­ship.

“I would ex­pect once he’s in gov­ern­ment to be­gin to nu­ance his po­si­tion some­what, be­cause he’ll now be ap­peal­ing to a dif­fer­ent set of vot­ers: that’s the U.K. elec­torate as a whole, not just the Con­ser­va­tive mem­bers, who are much more pro-Brexit.”

The first clues to John­son’s plans are likely to come when he be­gins ap­point­ing his Cab­i­net on Wed­nes­day and Thursday.

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 Par­lia­ment, where most mem­bers op­pose leav­ing the EU with­out a deal, and where the Con­ser­va­tive Party lacks an over­all ma­jor­ity.

— See guest ed­i­to­rial on page 6

AP PHOTO

Newly elected leader of the Con­ser­va­tive party Boris John­son ar­rives at Con­ser­va­tive party HQ in Lon­don on Tues­day.

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