Boris Johnson elected new UK PM
London: Boris Johnson on Tuesday comfortably won the Conservative Party’s leadership race to become the UK’s next Prime Minister and vowed to “get Brexit done” by the October 31 deadline, amid the political uncertainty over the country’s divorce deal with the European Union that cost his predecessor her job.
Johnson, the 55-year-old former foreign secretary and London Mayor, was widely expected to beat foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt in the battle for 10 Downing Street, which was triggered last month when a Brexit-battered Theresa May resigned as party chief and prime minister amid a mounting rebellion from within the Conservative Party.
“We are going to energise the country. We are going to get Brexit done on 31 October and take advantage of all the opportunities it will bring with a new spirit of can do,” Johnson said in the his first speech as the new Conservative Party leader.
“We are once again going to believe in ourselves, and like some slumbering giant we are going to rise and ping off the guy ropes of self doubt and negativity,” he said, in his characteristic ebullient style.
The west London MP from Uxbridge and Ruislip sought to strike a unifying note by thanking his predecessor, May, and his challenger Hunt as a formidable opponent whose good ideas he plans to “steal”.
Addressing the Tory party members at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in London, near the Houses of Parliament, soon after the results were declared, Johnson said: “No one person or party has the monopoly of wisdom. Time and again it is to us [Conservative Party] that people have turned.
“At this pivotal point in history… I know that we will do it. The mantra is deliver Brexit, unite the country and defeat [Labour leader] Jeremy Corbyn.
“I will work flat out to repay your confidence. The work begins now.”
The co-chair of the Tory party’s 1922 Committee Cheryl Gillan MP declared that Johnson won 92,153 votes compared to 46,656 polled for Hunt by a voting base of 159,320 Tory membership, with 509 rejected ballots.
The poll turnout was pegged at 87.4 per cent, with Johnson racing ahead with a vote of nearly two to one.
Hunt said he was “very disappointed”, but Johnson would do “a great job”. He said he had “total, unshakeable confidence in our country” and that was a valuable quality at such a challenging time.
The EU Commission’s Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, said he was looking forward to working with Johnson “to facilitate the ratification of the withdrawal agreement and achieve an orderly Brexit”.
Johnson has previously said the agreement May reached with the 28-member EU was “dead”.
The flambouyant politician is expected to spend some time finalising his key Cabinet and ministerial posts. A number of Brexiteers, including Indian-origin MPs Priti Patel and Rishi Sunak both supporters of Johnson, are expected to be part of his new team.
“With Boris Johnson leading the Conservative Party and as Prime Minister, the UK, will have a leader who believes in Britain, will implement a new vision for the future of the country and a roadmap to move forward and thrive as a self-governing nation that re-establishes our ties with our friends and allies around the world such as India,” said Patel.
Both Johnson and Hunt had made special interventions to reach out to the party’s Indian diaspora base, with Johnson promising a “new and improved” trading relationship with India if he is elected.
Johnson, who has in the past described himself as a “son-in-law of India” by virtue of his now estranged wife Marina Wheeler’s Indian mother, also played up a strong “personal relationship with Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi.”
May congratulated her successor, promising him her “full support from the backbenches”.
US President Donald Trump also tweeted his congratulations to Johnson, saying: “He will be great!”
Corbyn also reacted to the news on Twitter that Johnson had “won the support of fewer than 100,000 unrepresentative Conservative Party members”, but “hasn’t won the support of our country”.
The two final contenders clashed in a number of hustings around the UK, with Johnson’s refusal to take the prospect of a chaotic no-deal Brexit off the table exposing the divisions within the Tory party even further.
Many Cabinet ministers, including Chancellor Philip Hammond and justice secretary David Gauke, have already said they would step down rather than serve under Johnson as Prime Minister with his do or die pledge over the Brexit deadline.
Foreign Office minister Alan Duncan became one of the first to step down in opposition of Johnson’s Brexit strategy even before the results were declared. Another minister, Anne Milton in the education department, also resigned ahead of the result.
Johnson’s colourful personal life has also been under some scrutiny during the month-long leadership contest, with speculation rife in the UK media on whether his girlfriend Carrie Symonds is likely to join him as partner at 10 Downing Street.
May, who chaired her last Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, will address her final Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons on Wednesday and then be driven to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen.
The 93-year-old monarch will then invite the new PM-elect to form a government, following which he will make his first speech as Prime Minister on the steps of Downing Street on Wednesday evening.
The new PM will chair his first Cabinet meeting a day after, on Thursday morning, before the Parliament is set to rise for its summer recess until early September.