Jul 23, 2019

Boris Johnson set to become U.K. prime minister

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Boris Johnson easily defeated Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt to claim the leadership of the U.K. Conservative Party on Tuesday, setting the stage for him to become the country's next prime minister tomorrow.

The big picture: Johnson played a central role in pushing the "Leave" campaign over the top in the 2016 Brexit referendum — a shock result that unleashed the political chaos that consumed Johnson's most recent predecessors, David Cameron and Theresa May. Now, the man is meeting the moment he helped create.

What's next: Tomorrow morning, May will host her final Prime Minister's Questions in Parliament, offer her final remarks to the country and step down.

  • Johnson will travel to Buckingham Palace in the afternoon to meet with Queen Elizabeth II, before moving into 10 Downing Street.
  • He'll have 99 days to fulfill his promise to bring the country out of the EU by Halloween, with or without a deal.

How he got here: Johnson's rise to the pinnacle of British politics has been fueled by sheer force of personality and made possible in part by the fact that no one, least of all Johnson, takes him entirely seriously.

  • After Eton and Oxford came journalism. Johnson delighted eurosceptic Conservatives by lampooning the EU bureaucracy with outrageous and often fictitious dispatches from Brussels.
  • As mayor of London (2008–2016), Johnson thrived in the public-facing role while delegating most day-to-day responsibility. 
  • As foreign secretary (2016–2018), he was accused of spurning briefings and leaning on charm to conduct diplomacy, with mixed results.

When May's position became untenable, the job was Johnson's to lose. Rather than offer alternative proposals, though, he has offered alternative emotions.

  • In a Daily Telegraph column Monday, Johnson argued that if the U.S. could put a man on the Moon 50 years ago, surely the U.K. could overcome the "technical and logistical" challenges of leaving the EU.
  • "There is no task so simple that government cannot overcomplicate if it doesn’t want to do it," he declared. "And there are few tasks so complex that humanity cannot solve if we have a real sense of mission to pull them off."

Between the lines: Johnson's political appeal blends humor with Churchillian grandeur, often unencumbered by reality.

  • On Brexit, the Telegraph's Peter Foster reports that the "question being asked around Europe is whether Mr. Johnson wants a deal at all."
  • Johnson says a "no-deal" divorce — which would have major economic repercussions for the U.K. and the world — is preferable to another delay. A parliamentary majority is prepared to block it, however.
  • A rebellion is already growing within the Conservative ranks over no-deal, with outgoing Finance Minister Philip Hammond as an unlikely resistance leader.

The bottom line: All of this means a collision is coming between now and October. Johnson argued in his column, as he has throughout his career, that what's missing from the top ranks of British politics is "can-do spirit." We'll soon see if it makes all the difference.

Go deeper: Everything you need to know about Brexit

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Boris Johnson becomes U.K. prime minister

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets with Queen Elizabeth II. Photo: Victoria Jones/AFP/Getty Images

Boris Johnson officially became the U.K.'s prime minister on Wednesday after his meeting with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace.

The big picture, via Axios' Dave Lawler: He now has 99 days to fulfill his promise to bring the country out of the European Union by Halloween, with or without a deal. Johnson says a "no-deal" exit, which would have major economic repercussions for the U.K. and the world, is preferable to another delay, despite a parliamentary majority prepared to act to block it.

Go deeper: Everything you need to know about Brexit

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Newly installed Prime Minister Boris Johnson brought the Theresa May era to a screeching halt on Wednesday, dispatching 17 cabinet ministers and installing a team of loyalists and enthusiastic Brexit backers.

Why it matters: Johnson came to power through the Conservative leadership contest that followed May's resignation, not by winning a general election. It's highly unusual for an incoming prime minister to make sweeping personnel changes under such circumstances, and Johnson has sent a clear message that the Brexiteer flank is now in control.

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The U.K.'s Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow said Tuesday that he will not allow Prime Minister Boris Johnson to suspend Parliament in order to force through a no-deal Brexit at the end of October, the Telegraph reports.

"The one thing I feel strongly about is that the House of Commons must have its way. If there is an attempt to circumvent, to bypass or - God forbid! - to close down Parliament; that is anathema to me and I will fight it with every bone in my body to stop that happening. We cannot have a situation in which Parliament is shut down — we are a democratic society."
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