The Brief – For Johnson, the campaign is over

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.

“The campaign is over and the work begins.” So said Boris Johnson, the most unlikely, but still inevitable, of UK prime ministers.

In Johnson’s case, the campaign for the keys to No10 Downing Street has been his life’s pursuit. Asked how long her brother had wanted to be prime minister, his sister Rachel replied: ‘Since he was eight years old’.

Like his fellow fair-haired leader across the Atlantic, Johnson is a divisive leader for divided and divisive times. Yet, though many on both sides of the Channel find it hard to understand or accept, Johnson still has plenty of people who adore him.

He was a relatively popular Tory mayor of London, a cosmopolitan Labour-voting city, serving two full terms, although his legacy is rather thin aside from a series of failed vanity projects, environmental projects begun by his predecessor Ken Livingstone, and the 2012 Olympics.

There is a certain logic to Johnson becoming the prime minister tasked with finally delivering the UK’s exit from the EU. Brexit is his creation, from his years as Brussels correspondent for the Daily Telegraph spreading Euromyths to fronting the successful Leave campaign in June 2016.

After David Cameron called the referendum in early 2016, Johnson drafted two op-eds – one endorsing a Remain vote, the other in favour of Leave –  and agonised over which horse to back before enthusiastically embracing the role of Brexit frontman.

Once the Leave campaign claimed victory and Cameron resigned, it seemed inevitable that Johnson would replace him. But Johnson underestimated just how much hatred and vitriol would be poured on him for the lies and distortions of the Leave campaign, although, it has to be said, the Cameron-led Remain campaign was hardly averse to dirty tricks.

Three years on the job is much harder. Johnson’s party may have forgiven him, convincing themselves that he is the only one who can save them for electoral oblivion, but large swathes of the country have not. The UK is more bitterly divided than it was in 2016 and appears to be in the middle of a full-blown culture war.

It is hard to see how Johnson can take the UK out of the EU on ‘no deal’ terms on 31 October without losing a confidence vote and being forced to call a general election. His premiership, therefore, may not last until Christmas.

Yet if Johnson’s constituency of admirers is much smaller and overwhelmingly concentrated among Brexiteers since the 2016 referendum campaign, people have short memories in politics. He does exude optimism and has a unique capacity to get away with it – a rare gift indeed.

‘You campaign in poetry and govern in prose,’ said ex-New York governor Mario Cuomo. Can Boris Johnson cope with that? His unhappy and incompetent two-year stint as foreign secretary suggests that he probably cannot. We will find out for sure in the next few months.

The Roundup

By Alexandra Brzozowski

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

The appointment of Johnson has sparked worry in Scotland, with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon saying she has “profound concerns about the prospect of his premiership.”

Huawei 5G equipment will probably be used in core aspects of the UK’s future 5G network infrastructure, the founder of the Chinese telecommunications giant, Ren Zhengfei has said. His claim runs contrary to the stance held by the UK cabinet.

With majorities in the European Parliament becoming more unstable, votes are becoming more unpredictable.

David Starke, chief executive officer of SOS Méditerranée Germany, spoke to EURACTIV about his sea rescue organisation and others resuming operations at sea after Italy’s closing of ports and investigations against sea rescuers prompted a six-month hiatus.

Britain called for a European-led naval mission to ensure safe shipping through the Strait of Hormuz, days after Iran seized a British-flagged tanker in what London described as an act of “state piracy” in the strategic waterway.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy looked set to become Ukraine’s first leader since the fall of communism to command a single party majority in parliament, in what would be an unprecedented mandate to deliver promised reforms.

Kyrgyzstan was shaken by a major corruption scandal involving a Chinese company while the country’s capital Bishkek was hosting a ministerial meeting of the five Central Asian countries earlier this month. EU officials told EURACTIV this experience should serve as a lesson.

Look out for…

The European Parliament’s AFET committee.

Views are the author’s

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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