Johnson confirmed as UK’s new PM, vows to ‘reconcile’ Brexit divisions

Boris Johnson will be the UK's next Prime Minister after winning the Tory leadership contest. EPA-EFE/NEIL HALL

Boris Johnson will take over as the UK’s Prime Minister on Wednesday (24 July) after comfortably winning the Conservative leadership contest by a two-to-one margin.

Johnson was announced as the new Conservative party leader on Tuesday (23 July), having defeated Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt by 66% to 33% in a ballot of the 159,320 Conservative party members.

In a short victory speech, Johnson promised to “build a great society” and pledged that his government would seek to “reconcile two noble sets of instincts” between Remain and Leave supporters.

“We know that we can do it,” he said, adding that his campaign mantra had been to “deliver Brexit, unite the country and defeat Jeremy Corbyn, and that is what we are going to do.”

“The campaign is over and the work begins.”

The result comes as no surprise since Johnson had long been the favourite to succeed Theresa May once she announced her plans to resign in May.

In a campaign dominated by Brexit, both Johnson and Hunt vowed to take the UK out of the EU with or without a deal on October 31.

Despite his decisive victory among Tory party members, Johnson will face the same difficulties as his predecessor of having to govern with a wafer-thin majority and a divided party and country. The result was announced with campaigners for a People’s Vote protesting outside the venue in Westminster.

During the campaign, Johnson said that every member of his cabinet would have to be “reconciled” with the prospect of a no-deal Brexit.

That has prompted a series of ministers to resign with Education minister Anne Milton quitting on Tuesday morning citing “grave concerns” about Johnson’s leadership, and adding that “I believe strongly that Parliament should continue to play a central role in approving a deal and that we must leave the EU in a responsible manner.”

Johnson has refused to rule out the prospect of suspending Parliament, in which a majority opposes a No Deal Brexit, in order to force through Brexit on October 31.

“There is a clear majority in the House of Commons that doesn’t want to leave the EU without a deal, I think that will become very clear in the autumn,” said Justice minister David Gauke

Rory Stewart, a former leadership rival, joined finance minister Philip Hammond and justice minister David Gauke in telling Johnson he will quit the cabinet before the new prime minister takes office rather than serve under him.

The number of Tory rebels leaves Johnson highly vulnerable to a no-confidence vote over the coming months. That, in turn, means that an autumn general election is increasingly likely.

Johnson has promised to swiftly seek to renegotiate parts of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement which sank Theresa May’s premiership, a prospect which EU leaders have consistently ruled out.

“A no-deal Brexit, a hard Brexit, would be a tragedy – for all sides, not just for the United Kingdom,” European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans told reporters in Brussels.

“We are all going to suffer if that happens.”

Timmermans added that Johnson was guilty of “playing games” with Brexit.

“I would just suggest that you look at what he has been writing over the years. He took a long time deciding whether he was for or against the EU”.

[Edited by Samuel Stolton]

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