Boris Johnson has won the vote of the Tories, but not of the people of Britain. Hence the cynical barb in the immediate aftermath of his victory over Jeremy Hunt ~ “If the new Prime Minister thinks he can sup with populists like Nigel Farage and Donald Trump over Brexit, he risks ending up as dessert”. As Mr Johnson gears up to step into the hallowed portals of No. 10, he, in the historical perspective, faces the gravest challenge since Winston Churchill in 1940. While the latter was a statesman in his own right, Mr Johnson is almost a Prime Minister by default after Theresa May stumbled in her essay towards Brexit, and thus facilitated a midterm change of guard. His challenge is of how the UK can leave the European Union. Initial signals are less than promising.
His pledge to leave the EU ~ deal or no deal ~ has not unnerved Brussels. Far from it. On the contrary, EU has shot down his Brexit plan within moments of his appointment as the Conservative party leader. Indeed, EU has let it be known that it has no plans to make concessions. Markedly, the intervention coincides with Brussels making its position clear, specifically that the EU will not renegotiate the withdrawal ageement reached by Mrs May, and one that was rejected thrice by the MPs. Leaving the EU without a deal threatens to wreck Britain’s economy, stoke violence in Ireland, and arguably lead to fissures within the United Kingdom.
The lesson for Mr Johnson is that when centre right politicians adopt the language and policies of populist nationalism, it is the hardliners who stand to gain. Mr Farage now leads the Brexit party. Supping with the devil has its inherent risks. And this is particularly obvious in Mr Johnson’s equation with Mr Trump, whose friendship comes at a steep cost. Specifically, the price will be to accept Brexit on terms that Mr Johnson wants to avoid. Without that, Mr Trump cannot secure the much sought after US UK trade deal.
Confusion gets worse confounded with the spate of resignations from the government in parallel to Mr Johnson’s election. Before he goes ahead with his Brexit plan of action, the new Prime Minister will have to put together an agreeable team ~ no easy task not the least because the EU has lost no time in shooting down his proposal. There can be no ready made fix after Mrs May’s tortuous trail. Small wonder, Mr Johnson’s election has been greeted by a section of the British media with a reaction that is as uncharitable as it is distressing ~ “Mr Johnson plays the clown. But the circus will move on, only to leave a broken country in its wake.” Britain is disoriented.