Boris Johnson wins race to become Britain’s next PM

New Conservative Party leader and incoming prime minister Boris Johnson. (AFP)
Updated 24 July 2019

Boris Johnson wins race to become Britain’s next PM

  • The former London mayor easily beat his rival, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt
  • He is expected to be confirmed as prime minister on Wednesday

LONDON: Boris Johnson won the race to become Britain’s next prime minister on Tuesday, heading straight into a confrontation over Brexit with Brussels and parliament, as well as a tense diplomatic standoff with Iran.
The former London mayor easily beat his rival, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, in a vote of members of the governing Conservative Party.
He is expected to be confirmed as prime minister on Wednesday, when his predecessor Theresa May formally tenders her resignation to Queen Elizabeth II.
US President Donald Trump was the first world leader to offer his congratulations, saying: “He will be great!“
It is a triumph for a man who has always wanted the top job, but Johnson, known for his jokes and bluster, is taking over at a time of immense political upheaval.
Three years after the referendum vote to leave the European Union, Britain remains a member amid continued wrangling in a divided parliament on how to proceed.
Johnson led the 2016 Brexit campaign and — after May delayed Brexit twice — insists the latest deadline must be kept, with or without a divorce agreement with the EU.
“We’re going to get Brexit done on October 31,” he declared after winning 66 percent of almost 160,000 votes cast.
However, Brussels says it will not renegotiate the deal it struck with May to ease the end of a 46-year partnership — even after MPs rejected it three times.
EU negotiator Michel Barnier said he wanted to work with Johnson “to facilitate the ratification of the withdrawal agreement and achieve an orderly #Brexit.”
But he said he was ready to “rework” an accompanying declaration on future UK-EU ties.
Although parliament dislikes May’s deal, Johnson faces significant opposition from MPs to his threat to leaving with no deal, including from Conservative colleagues.
Several ministers said they will not serve under Johnson, warning that severing ties with Britain’s closest trading partner with no new arrangements is deeply irresponsible.
But addressing Conservative members after his win, Johnson insisted with his trademark optimism that he would find a way through the deadlock.
“Like some slumbering giant we are going to rise and ping off the guy ropes of self-doubt and negativity,” he said.
Johnson promised to “work flat out from now on,” saying he would announce his top team in the coming days.
But Westminster is watching for any early challenge which could stop him automatically becoming prime minister.
May’s government has a majority of just two in the 650-seat House of Commons, made possible through an alliance with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
The main opposition Labour party is not expected to force a confidence vote this week — but some in his own party have already tried.
Junior foreign minister Alan Duncan, who quit this week, revealed he had sought to force a vote on Tuesday but was blocked by Commons Speaker John Bercow.
However, other colleagues who do not agree with Johnson are still willing to give him a chance.
“I think he needs to be given an opportunity to go out there to engage with the European Commission,” outgoing justice minister David Gauke told BBC radio.
MPs are expected to go on their summer holidays on Friday, giving Johnson some breathing room over the summer to try to get a new Brexit deal.
But when he returns, if “no deal” looks likely, many MPs have vowed to stop him — a move that could trigger an early election.
Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn challenged Johnson on Tuesday to call a vote, although both his party and the Tories are struggling amid a splintering of support among a public deeply divided over Brexit.
They face a challenge from Nigel Farage’s euroskeptic Brexit Party on one side, and the pro-EU Liberal Democrats on the other.
Outside parliament, where pro- and anti-Brexit protesters gather daily, reaction to Johnson’s win was mixed.
“What a disaster!” said Janet Ellis, 68, who opposes Brexit. But euroskeptic Michelle Pearce, 64, said: “It’s the most we can hope for.”
“He’ll be brilliant or a disaster,” Pearce said.
Johnson’s domestic battles might have to take a backseat during his first days in office as he manages tensions with Iran.
The Islamic republic seized a UK-flagged tanker in the strategic Strait of Hormuz last Friday — two weeks after UK authorities detained an Iranian tanker off Gibraltar.
The standoff comes amid escalating tensions between Iran and the United States over the Islamic republic’s nuclear ambitions.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted his congratulations to Johnson, saying: “Iran does not seek confrontation.
“But we have 1500 miles of Arabian Gulf coastline. These are our waters & we will protect them.”


China gives Hong Kong leader ‘unwavering support’

Updated 16 December 2019

China gives Hong Kong leader ‘unwavering support’

  • The city’s leader is in Beijing for an annual visit, and is set to meet President Xi Jinping later Monday
  • The past month had seen a lull in the violence and vandalism in the city, after pro-democracy parties won a landslide in local council elections

BEIJING: China’s premier told beleaguered Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Monday that she had Beijing’s “unwavering support” after a huge rally earlier this month and her government’s thrashing at recent local elections.

The city has been upended by six months of massive pro-democracy protests that have seen violent battles between police and hardcore demonstrators, as well as regular transport disruption.

Protesters have called for the unpopular Lam to stand down as leader, but Li Keqiang said Beijing would give “unwavering support” to her government to maintain the “long-term prosperity and stability in Hong Kong.”

“The central government fully recognizes the efforts you and the SAR (special administrative region) government have paid,” said Li, at a meeting with Lam in the Hong Kong Hall of the imposing Great Hall of People in Beijing.

He said Lam’s government had “tried its best to maintain social stability” amid “an unprecedentedly severe and complicated situation.”

But he also called for the Hong Kong government to “step up studies of the deep-seated conflicts and problems that hinder Hong Kong’s economic and social development” in order to restore calm to the city.

“Hong Kong is yet to get out of its plight. The SAR government must continue its hard work, stop violence and subdue chaos according to laws and restore order,” Li told Lam.

The city’s leader is in Beijing for an annual visit, and is set to meet President Xi Jinping later Monday.

At the meeting with Li, she said she was grateful for the premier’s “care for Hong Kong.”

The semi-autonomous city is ruled under the “one country, two systems” principle, which gives the territory rights unseen on mainland China — rights protesters say are steadily being eroded.

The past month had seen a lull in the violence and vandalism in the city, after pro-democracy parties won a landslide in local council elections.

A week ago, around 800,000 people marched peacefully through the city’s streets, urging the government to respond to their five demands — which include an independent inquiry into the police, an amnesty for those arrested, and fully free elections.

But public anger remains as Beijing and Lam show no sign of giving further concessions despite the election success.

This weekend the relative calm was broken by clashes between black-clad pro-democracy protesters and Hong Kong police in some of the city’s shopping malls.

And earlier this week an international panel of experts hired to advise Hong Kong on the police response to protests announced they were quitting, saying the watchdog was not fit for purpose “in a society that values freedoms and rights.”