- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Boris Johnson, the rumpled maverick who once seemed a long shot for Britain’s top job, easily won a leadership battle for the Conservative Party on Tuesday, putting him on course to be the country’s next prime minister.

But the ambitious Mr. Johnson also inherits a daunting series of challenges when Parliament confirms him for 10 Downing Street, from a razor-thin governing majority in Parliament to a new clash with Iran to an Oct. 31 deadline to cut the deal he claims he can make to take the United Kingdom out of the European Union.

Receiving congratulations from President Trump and a host of world leaders, Mr. Johnson is expected to formally take office Wednesday and already has laid out an energetic first 100 days as he prepared to succeed Prime Minister Theresa May, whose government fell apart because of her inability to cut an acceptable Brexit deal with Brussels.

“Thank you all for the incredible honor you have done me,” Mr. Johnson tweeted this morning. “The time for campaigning is over and time for work begins to unite our country and party, deliver Brexit and defeat [Labor Party leader Jeremy] Corbyn. I will work flat out to repay your confidence.”

In his victory speech, Mr. Johnson, a onetime journalist and former mayor of London, emphasized unity and a “new spirit of can-do,” saying he would negotiate a successful Brexit, re-assert Britain’s independence, and work to preserve trade and strategic ties with Europe.

“We are once again going to believe in ourselves and what we can achieve,” he said. “And like some slumbering giant, we are going to rise and ping off the guy ropes of self-doubt and negativity.”

President Trump, an early supporter of Mr. Johnson (and frequent critic of Mrs. May), tweeted his best wishes, predicting, “He will be great!”

Mr. Johnson easily defeated moderate Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt in a vote of a tiny slice of dues-paying Conservative Party members, taking 66% of the vote. Mr. Hunt tweeted that his opponent “will be a great PM for our country at this critical moment!”

Brexit or bust

That “critical moment” focuses heavily on Brexit. A onetime foreign secretary under Mrs. May, Mr. Johnson campaigned enthusiastically for Brexit, declaring he was ready to leave the bloc with or without a deal by the Oct. 31 deadline. Many British businesses fear at “no-deal Brexit” could lead to chaos in trade relations and the re-establishment of a hard border between Northern Ireland, part of the U.K., and the Republic of Ireland, an EU member.

Mr. Johnson and his supporters argued his tough line and willingness to walk away were critical to getting a better divorce deal from the other EU members.

“The more determined we are to pursue ‘no deal,’ the less likely we will have to deploy it,” Mr. Johnson said.

Mr. Johnson’s win is being hailed as another major victory for the nationalist and euroskeptic political movements that have swept across the U.S. and much of Europe in recent election cycles. The far-right Alternative for Germany party issued a statement praising Mr. Johnson’s election.

Some U.S. analysts see Mr. Johnson’s victory opening the way for better ties between Washington and London. Heritage Foundation European analyst Nile Gardiner said he expects Mr. Johnson to move the U.K. away from EU relationships and policies, including the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that Mr. Trump rejected but that European powers are desperate to preserve.

“I expect with a new British government, you’re going to see a different approach taken toward the Iran deal. I think that Britain will increasingly move away from EU policy positions,” said Mr. Gardiner, director of the foundation’s Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom.

Mr. Johnson has not moved in lockstep with the Trump White House: He continues to voice support for trying to save the Iran deal and criticized Mr. Trump’s recent comments about four Democratic minority congresswomen.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif offered a congratulatory message of his own to Mr. Johnson, amid a crisis in bilateral relations over the seizure of ships. He said Iran “does not seek confrontations” with London and that the country “wants normal relations based on mutual respect.”

Aside from the looming Brexit deadline and the increased strain with Iran, the new government must face British voters by 2022 at the latest. Most London watchers say the Johnson government, challenged by Mr. Corbyn and seeking a bigger majority, will almost certainly call an election far sooner than that.

Many Conservatives opposed Mr. Johnson’s leadership bid for fear he would prove a much weaker candidate in a general election. Mr. Johnson was elected by only Conservative Party activists, an electorate of just 165,000 members in a nation of 66 million.

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