LONDON: Boris Johnson took over as Britain’s new prime minister on Wednesday vowing to prove the “gloomsters” wrong and get a new deal to leave the European Union on October 31 — or exit without one.
The 55-year-old former London mayor is a divisive figure, loved by many for his wit and optimism but criticised for populist rhetoric and exaggerated claims during the 2016 Brexit referendum vote.
In a speech in Downing Street, he repeated that he would prepare to leave the bloc without an agreement with Brussels but suggested this was a “remote possibility”.
But ending Britain’s 46-year membership of the bloc will prove a huge challenge for Johnson, who has a wafer-thin working majority in parliament and faces significant opposition among his own Conservative party.
The EU has repeatedly said it will not renegotiate the divorce deal it struck with his predecessor Theresa May, which has been rejected by MPs three times.
In typically upbeat fashion, Johnson insisted he could find a way through and unite the country. “We are going to fulfil the repeated promises of parliament to the people and come out of the EU on October 31, no ifs or buts,” he declared.
Watched by his girlfriend Carrie Symonds, the former London mayor said “the doubters, the doomsters, the gloomsters are going to get it wrong again”.
But he added: “It is of course vital at the same time that we prepare for the remote possibility that Brussels refuses any further to negotiate and we are forced to come out with no-deal.”
European Council president Donald Tusk was quick to congratulate Johnson, adding: “I look forward to meeting you to discuss — in detail — our cooperation.”
Johnson was on Tuesday elected leader of the governing Conservative party by its members, and was confirmed prime minister in a meeting on Wednesday with Queen Elizabeth II.
His ascent is the culmination of a lifelong ambition for the politician who, with his jokes and absurd anecdotes, has enjoyed celebrity status in Britain for decades.
But before he even took office, several pro-European ministers quit in protest at his threat of a “no deal” Brexit, fearing the economic consequences.
Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn challenged Johnson to call a general election, saying he “has no mandate from the people”.
While Johnson won a landslide in the contest to become Tory leader, a YouGov survey on Wednesday found his approval rating was just 31 per cent among the public.
Beloved by many for his apparent refusal to take life too seriously, the former journalist is accused by others of demonising minorities in his articles and incompetence.
Published in Dawn, July 25th, 2019