Boris Johnson Becomes UK Leader

After three years of chaos and weak leadership, the British government was abruptly transformed last week by the appointment of Boris Johnson as the new Conservative Party leader and prime minister. After the drab technocracy of Theresa May, Johnson is a much livelier and more colorful figure — but how is this going to affect relations between the US and our closest ally?

Highlights

Just when the UK needed a strong leader to get the country out of the European Union, keep the socialist Labour Party out of government and — to coin a phrase — make Britain great again, it was stuck with Theresa May. Weak, indecisive and not really a conservative at all, May made a disastrous mess of the Brexit negotiations and paralyzed the government until, finally, her colleagues told her to go. Last Wednesday, at last, she went.

  • Under the UK’s parliamentary system, an ousted prime minister is replaced by the leader of the largest party in parliament. In this case, that’s May’s replacement as Conservative leader, a position that was decided by a ballot of party members last Tuesday.
  • The winner of that ballot, taking two-thirds of the votes, was Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson.
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  • Johnson, aged 55, was born in New York to British parents and holds joint US and British citizenship. Unlike May, who’s always leaned towards the EU, he’s an Atlanticist who values the special relationship between his two countries.
  • EU supporters have spent the last three years smearing Johnson as a far-right extremist — but he’s a long way from that. Socially liberal, he’s really in the political center on social issues but a lot further to the right on economics.
  • After three years of negotiations and votes, Theresa May managed to achieve a Brexit deal with the EU that’s been compared to a surrender document signed by a nation defeated in a war — it basically hands control of British law and the economy to politicians sitting in a foreign capital. She tried three times to get it through parliament and failed every time.
  • Now Johnson wants to tear up that deal — and, if the EU won’t negotiate a better one, he’s ready to just walk away.
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  • What really matters to the new prime minister is a good trade deal with the US — and negotiating one will be a high priority for both him and President Trump. The UK is already the largest investor in US businesses and one of our major trade partners, as well as our closest military ally and a top-level intelligence-sharing partner. Shoring up this relationship only makes sense.

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