(BLOOMINGTON, Ind.) – The first months in office for Britain’s new prime minister will be defined by one issue: Brexit.
Britain’s exit from the European Union drove Boris Johnson’s two predecessors from office. David Cameron resigned after putting E-U membership to a referendum, and losing. Theresa May resigned after failing twice to win parliamentary approval for the terms of Britain’s divorce from the EU.
Unlike them, Johnson takes office as a vocal Brexit supporter. Lee Feinstein, the dean of IU’s Hamilton-Lugar School of Global and International Studies, says that reputation may give Johnson the credibility to get a deal through. He says the most common prediction is a deal that looks a lot like May’s, with just enough changes for Johnson to take ownership.
Johnson has threatened to simply leave the EU without a deal if Parliament can’t agree on one. Feinstein says that’s a game of chicken, because Britain would take the biggest economic hit of any country if that happened.
The transition may thaw U.S.-British relations in the short term. President Trump was piling praise on Johnson months before May stepped down. Johnson has been called Britain’s Trump, and Feinstein says there are similarities. Both have sometimes sparked outrage with their rhetoric. Both are nontraditional politicians, though Johnson had government experience as mayor of London and as foreign secretary before becoming prime minister. And Feinstein notes both have built their bases with a populist appeal to voters who feel the government’s not listening to them. But Feinstein says unlike Trump, Johnson will have to deal with a significant band of rebels within his party who have never been happy with Brexit, as well as multiple opposition parties who share that skepticism.
Johnson was selected by Britain’s Conservative Party to replace May as its leader and thus prime minister. He won’t face voters until 2022, unless there’s a vote of no confidence or a supermajority of Parliament agrees to early elections.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)