Boris Johnson wins race to become next British prime minister

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AFP

AFP: Agence France-Presse (AFP) is an international news agency headquartered in Paris, France. Founded in 1835 as Agence Havas, it is the world's oldest news agency.
AFP

LONDON: Former London mayor Boris Johnson on Tuesday won the race to become Britain’s next prime minister, defeating Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt in the Conservative Party leadership contest.

Johnson defeated Hunt by 92,153 votes to 46,656 votes cast by members of the Conservative party. He will officially replace outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday, when she formally tenders her resignation to Queen Elizabeth II.

Following his victory on Tuesday, Johnson vowed to “get Brexit done” by the twice-delayed October 31 deadline.

“We’re going to get Brexit done on October 31,” Johnson said moments after being declared the winner of the Conservative party leadership race.

Three years after the referendum vote to leave the European Union, Britain remains a member, after twice delaying its exit amid continued wrangling in a divided parliament – and the country – on how to proceed.

Johnson led the 2016 Brexit campaign and has said the latest deadline of October 31 must be kept, with or without a divorce agreement with the EU.

But Brussels says it will not renegotiate the deal it struck with May, which was designed to ease the end of a 46-year partnership but which MPs have rejected.

A majority of lawmakers are against a “no deal” Brexit, including many of Johnson’s colleagues.

Three cabinet ministers have already said they will not serve under Johnson, saying that severing ties with Britain’s closest trading partner with no new arrangements is deeply irresponsible.

The government’s official forecaster said last week that Britain will slide into a year-long recession should it leave the EU without a deal.

Razor-thin majority

Westminster is watching for any early challenge to the new Conservative leader from within his party, which could stop him automatically becoming prime minister.

Barring that, he will be confirmed by Queen Elizabeth on Wednesday before moving straight into Downing Street.

With just months before the Brexit deadline, Johnson is expected to hit the ground running, announcing his cabinet and other top posts in the next few days.

May’s government currently has a majority of just two in the 650-seat House of Commons, made possible through an alliance with the 10 MPs from Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

Finance Minister Philip Hammond and two other cabinet ministers have already announced they will step down, as has junior foreign minister Alan Duncan.

Duncan revealed he had sought to force a vote on Johnson’s leadership on Tuesday – before he enters Downing Street – but was blocked by Commons Speaker Johnson Bercow.

However, the main opposition Labour party is not currently expected to force a confidence vote this week.

And retiring Justice Secretary David Gauke said that while he disagreed with Johnson’s strategy, he was 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,” 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, several Conservative MPs warn they will try to stop him — a move that could trigger an early election.

Johnson wooed Tory members — and before that, Tory MPs, who backed him over Hunt by a wide margin — with a promise to deliver Brexit but also to take the fight to their political rivals.

The opposition Labour party under veteran socialist Jeremy Corbyn is currently slightly ahead in opinion polls.

But both main parties face a major challenge from Nigel Farage´s eurosceptic Brexit Party on one side, and the pro-EU Liberal Democrats on the other.

Gulf tensions

Johnson’s domestic battles might have to take a backseat during his first days in office as he manages tensions with Iran.

Foreign Secretary Hunt has branded as “state piracy” Iran’s seizure of Stena Impero in the strategic Strait of Hormuz last Friday.

It came two weeks after Britain held an Iranian tanker off Gibraltar on suspicion of breaching sanctions on Syria.

The standoff comes amid escalating tensions between Iran and the United States over the Islamic republic´s nuclear ambitions.

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