Boris Johnson to become UK prime minister after decisive Tory vote | News | DW | 23.07.2019
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Boris Johnson to become UK prime minister after decisive Tory vote

Boris Johnson is on track to become British Prime Minister after winning the Conservative Party leadership vote. He will immediately have to deal with a burgeoning crisis with Iran and long-stalled Brexit negotiations.

Watch video 02:26

Boris Johnson wins Conservative Party leadership

Boris Johnson was elected leader of the British Conservative Party on Tuesday, virtually assuring his ascendancy to replace Theresa May as prime minister.

Johnson beat Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt to win the poll of approximately 160,000 Conservative Party members, claiming 92,153 votes to Hunt's 46,656.

Barring a highly unlikely veto from the Queen, Johnson will take over the reins from outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May, having repeatedly pledged during the campaign to leave the European Union at the end of October "come what may." 

Johnson thanked Theresa May for her service to the country, saying it was "a privilege to serve in her Cabinet." May later lent her full support to Johnson, urging him to "deliver a Brexit that works for the whole UK."

He conceded that many people would question the decision to elect him as leader, but said "we are going to energize the country, we are going to get Brexit done by October 31."

Watch video 07:07

Johnson: 'It is do or die – not just for Brexit'

Immediate hurdles

The former London mayor will immediately have to wrangle with a major maritime dispute with Iran and take over stalled negotiations with an increasingly Brexit-weary EU.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel congratulated Johnson on his successful bid to become the UK's next prime minister.

"Our countries will continue to be bound by close friendship in the future," said Merkel, according to her spokeswoman, Ulrike Demmer.

The EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier congratulated Johnson on his victory, saying they would work towards an orderly exit for Britain.

Incoming leader of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen congratulated Johnson, saying she hoped to have a good working relationship with him.

French President Emmanuel Macron said he looked forward to working with Johnson, particularly on Brexit and Iran.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair told German daily Die Welt on Monday that Johnson's singular focus should be on how to deal with Brexit.  

"As a prime minister, you have to focus on the big picture at all times. But in reality, Boris Johnson only has one big decision to make, and that's Brexit. Everything else is secondary," Blair said. "Either he now finds a way to withdraw his ultimate demand on the backstop, or to actually risk a no deal, but with the citizens' approval. Without their clear mandate, a no deal is too politically risky for him." 

Ralf Stegner, deputy leader of Germany's center-left SPD party, the junior coalition partner to Angela Merkel's CDU, told DW on Monday that there was a genuine chance that Johnson could reverse course on his hard-Brexit path.

"Johnson belongs to the breed of politicians who say this today and that tomorrow. In this respect, surprises are certainly possible and the majorities in the British Parliament have not changed. They are very critical of it, and rightly so, by the way, because Brexit would not only be difficult for Europe, but also presumably economically catastrophic for Britain."

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif congratulated Johnson on his victory, but warned Iran would protect its territorial waters.

US President Donald Trump said Johnson would be a great leader.

Read more: Who is Boris Johnson, Brexit champion and likely British PM?

Gaffe-prone

His ascent to power was marked with regular controversies and gaffes, starting with his job as a trainee reporter at The Times newspaper, where he was dismissed for concocting a quote from his own godfather.

In 2004, by then an MP, the Oxford graduate was sacked from his roles as shadow arts minister and Conservative Party vice-chairman for lying about an extramarital affair.

His London mayorship was epitomized by a 53.5 million pounds (€59.5 million, $66.5 million) waste of taxpayer money on a failed vanity project, meant to be a garden-covered pedestrian bridge over the River Thames.

In 2016, the bombastic politician became a central figure in the Brexit campaign. His last-minute decision to support Leave came as a shock and a serious blow to former Prime Minister David Cameron.

During his tenure as foreign secretary from 2016 to 2018, one his more memorable blunders was mistakenly saying that British-Iranian citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was training journalists in Iran; Zaghari-Ratcliffe's family and the British government insist she was in fact visiting relatives. Iranian officials later cited Johnson's comments in Parliament as evidence that she had engaged in "propaganda against the regime." 

Read more: Boris Johnson's ties with Steve Bannon exposed

Colleagues resign

Several party colleagues have expressed dismay at the prospect of Johnson as prime minister and a potential "no deal" Brexit. Several junior ministers, plus Chancellor of the Exchequer Philipp Hammond and Cabinet member and former rival candidate for the Tory leadership Rory Stewart, have pledged to leave their posts if Johnson emerges victorious.

Shortly before the announcement, junior education minister and former deputy chief whip Anne Milton also announced her resignation.

During Johnson's acceptance speech, Justice Minister David Gauke also announced his resignation from the front bench.

His party is already in the minority in parliament's lower House of Commons but holds a very tight working majority — now down to two after the dismissal of Charlie Elphicke following sexual assault charges — thanks to a confidence-and-supply arrangement with Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). The DUP holds 10 seats in the UK parliament. 

Meanwhile, opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn used the occasion to call for new elections, saying the Conservative poll was an "unrepresentative" ballot. "Boris Johnson has won the support of fewer than 100,000 unrepresentative Conservative Party members by promising tax cuts for the richest, presenting himself as the bankers' friend, and pushing for a damaging no-deal Brexit," Corbyn tweeted. "But he hasn't won the support of our country."

aw/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)

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