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

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 5,410,228 — Total deaths: 345,105 — Total recoveries — 2,169,005Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 1,643,499 — Total deaths: 97,722 — Total recoveries: 366,736 — Total tested: 14,163,915Map.
  3. World: White House announces travel restrictions on Brazil, coronavirus hotspot in Southern Hemisphere Over 100 coronavirus cases in Germany tied to single day of church services — Boris Johnson backs top aide amid reports that he broke U.K. lockdown while exhibiting symptoms.
  4. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks headed into Memorial Day weekend Report finds "little evidence" coronavirus under control in most statesHurricanes, wildfires, the flu could strain COVID-19 response
  5. Economy: White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Public employees brace for layoffs.
  6. Federal government: Trump attacks a Columbia University study that suggests earlier lockdown could have saved 36,000 American lives.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

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Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

U.S. coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios. This graphic includes "probable deaths" that New York City began reporting on April 14.

The CDC is warning of potentially "aggressive rodent behavior" amid a rise in reports of rat activity in several areas, as the animals search further for food while Americans stay home more during the coronavirus pandemic.

By the numbers: More than 97,700 people have died from COVID-19 and over 1.6 million have tested positive in the U.S. Over 366,700 Americans have recovered and more than 14.1 million tests have been conducted.

World coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

Japan's economy minister outlined plans on Monday to end the nationwide state of emergency as the number of new novel coronavirus cases continues to decline to fewer than 50 a day, per Bloomberg. Japan has reported 16,550 cases and 820 deaths.

By the numbers: Over 5.4 million people have tested positive for the virus as of Monday, and more than 2.1 million have recovered. The U.S. has reported the most cases in the world (over 1.6 million from 13.7 million tests). The U.K. is reporting over 36,800 deaths from the coronavirus — the most fatalities outside the U.S.