Boris Johnson says Brexit on Oct 31 ‘no ifs or buts’

by AFP / pic by AFP

LONDON • Newly-installed British Prime Minister (PM) Boris Johnson (picture) yesterday promised to deliver Brexit on Oct 31, “no ifs or buts”, and prove wrong “the doubters, the doomsters, the gloomsters”.

Speaking outside his new Downing Street office, Johnson — who spearheaded the “Leave” campaign in the 2016 Brexit referendum — promised to do a “new deal” with Brussels.

After being formally appointed by Queen Elizabeth II, Johnson set out his mission statement, insisting that the vote to leave the European Union (EU) must be respected.

“We will do a new deal. A better deal that will maximise the opportunities of Brexit,” the 55-year-old said.

“I have every confidence that in 99 days’ time, we will have cracked it.

“The British people have had enough of waiting.”

The new Conservative Party leader also made a raft of domestic policy announcements in a nearly 12-minute address.

“I will take personal responsibility for the change I want to see,” he said, with his girlfriend Carrie Symonds watching with his team of aides.

“Never mind the backstop: The buck stops here,” he said.

“If there is one thing that has really sapped the confidence of business, it is not the decisions we have taken — it is our refusal to take decisions.

“Brexit was a fundamental decision by the British people that they wanted their laws made by people that they elected and that they can remove from office.

“We must now respect that decision,” he said.

Meanwhile, President of the European Council Donald Tusk congratulated Johnson on becoming British PM yesterday, but immediately stressed that the EU needed to hear “details” of his Brexit plan.

“On behalf of the European Council, I would like to congratulate you on your appointment as PM of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland,” the former Polish leader wrote.

“I look forward to meeting you to discuss — in detail — our cooperation,” he added in a letter that was barely longer than the equally terse tweet he had just sent announcing it.

Tusk, whose Council represents the leaders of the 28 EU member states, has made no secret of his dismay at Britain’s decision to quit the EU and was instrumental in securing delays to Brexit day itself in the hope London would change its mind.

Instead, the Conservative Party chose arch-Brexiteer Johnson as its leader and hence PM, and the new tenant of No 10 insists that Britain will leave the EU on Oct 31 whether or not he has negotiated a new withdrawal agreement.

Tusk’s insistence on “detail” recalls a previous outburst when he declared that there was a “special place in hell” for those — like Johnson — who campaigned urging British voters to back Brexit “without even a sketch of a plan of how to carry it out safely”.

Known for his jokes and bluster, Johnson has sold himself as the optimistic leader to end the Brexit crisis, but his tendency to play to the crowd has drawn accusations of divisive, Trumpstyle populism.

From his early years in journalism writing what critics called “Euro-myths”, to editorials comparing burqa-wearing Muslim women to “letter boxes”, Johnson has been nothing if not controversial.

The former London mayor has in the past diverted criticism with a witty aside or an absurd anecdote. But the 55-year-old is now taking over as PM at one of the most difficult times in Britain’s history.

With his easygoing manner, unpredictability and willingness to laugh at himself, Johnson cuts a vastly different figure from his determined but colourless predecessor, Theresa May.

For supporters, his star power is a political asset.

They hope his maverick approach will help him break the political deadlock over Britain’s exit from the EU that has left the country in limbo.

Having run cosmopolitan London for eight years, Johnson also said he can unite his Conservative Party and the country, both of them still deeply divided over the 2016 referendum vote for Brexit.

But he is a polarising figure, still hated by many voters as figurehead of a referendum campaign marked by exaggerated claims about the EU and anti-immigrant rhetoric.

His threat to leave the EU without a deal has prompted alarm on both sides of the channel, sparking accusations that he is not being honest with voters about the economic consequences.

Despite his own socially liberal views — he has long backed gay marriage and advocated an amnesty for illegal migrants as mayor — Johnson has also drawn accusations of “dog-whistle” politics.

Over the years as a journalist, he has written articles referring to gay “bumboys”, the Commonwealth’s “flag-waving piccaninnies” and as recently as last summer, derogatory remarks about veiled Muslim women.

His biographer Andrew Gimson said Johnson was not instinctively divisive but delighted in shocking the political establishment — not unlike US President Donald Trump, who is a fan of Britain’s new leader.

Like Trump, Johnson is also accused of being uninterested in the fine detail of policy — “winging it”, as one former colleague described it — leading to some serious mistakes. — AFP