- - Tuesday, July 23, 2019


So, Britain has a new prime minister, although the lengthy contest was really a formality once the first round of voting had given Boris Johnson such a commanding lead. 

What was a surprise is that the “Remainer” candidates thought they stood a chance. After three years of losing almost every Brexit battle, they still thought they could stop Britain leaving the EU

Theresa May practically based her premiership on being divorced from political reality and she obviously did a good job surrounding herself with like-minded people who wanted to succeed her. 

For the sake of continuity and not wanting to speak ill of the recently departed, Mr. Johnson thanked his predecessor in his victory speech and reached out to all sides of the Conservative “family” by reminding them of their campaign pledge to “Deliver Brexit, Unite and Defeat Jeremy Corbyn,” which he humorously pointed out had the unfortunate acronym of DUD. 

And that might be as good as it gets for party unity. Mr. Johnson set his campaign on delivering Brexit by the present Oct. 31 deadline, which means hard decisions will have to be taken quickly, even ruthlessly.

He has not ruled out trying to get a better deal with the EU and it is possible that the new leadership in Brussels might be more open to compromise, but after summer recess, there will not be much time left for re-negotiations. 

He certainly cannot afford to wait for more favorable terms from the EU. Instead, he must begin investing immediately to make leaving without a deal not just possible, but advantageous. 

Had Theresa May seriously invested in no-deal preparations at the same time as negotiating her doomed deal, she would have had more leverage to get better terms. Interestingly, her inaction and failures could now make Boris’ job a lot easier, as the lack of time rules out further prolonged negotiations. It all depends on how he decides to play the lousy hand she has given him. 

He should now go all out for “no-deal.” Even if he faces a party rebellion and is forced to call an election, such a pro-Brexit stance could get enough British voters to give him a new and stronger mandate. After all, there are 17.4 million Brexit voters out there somewhere — perhaps even more by now?

He might also get the support of the new Brexit party. Its indefatigable leader, Nigel Farage, gave the new prime minister some advice, “It is ‘do or die’ not just for Brexit, but for the future of the Conservative party too.” He coupled that with a challenge, “Does he [Boris] have the courage to deliver for the country?” 

If Mr. Johnson wobbles and postpones the leave deadline or seeks a compromise deal to leave the EU in name only, then he and his party could be toast whenever the next election does come.

However, there are still some questions about how committed a “Brexiteer” Mr. Johnson really is. He resigned from Mrs. May’s cabinet because he couldn’t support her deal, but on the third time of asking he actually voted for it.  

Before the referendum, he wrote an article and made comments that favored “Remain” before eventually deciding on “Brexit.” Was that a case of hedging his bets? In a sense, he is a typical Tory for whom compromise and consensus in the norm. 

It is true that the two Conservative giants, Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill, were conviction politicians, but they were certainly not typical Conservatives and were initially loathed by their own party bosses. Support only came after they had proven themselves in battle, although in Thatcher’s case even that was ultimately not enough.

One immediate problem Mr. Johnson will have to address is Iran’s recent seizure of the British flagged oil tanker, the Stena Impero, in retaliation for Britain having captured one of its own oil tankers that was bound for Syria in violation of an EU embargo. 

It is alleged that Britain previously turned down an offer of naval support from President Trump to protect its shipping in the area. Although this was denied by Prime Minister May’s spokesperson who said, “There has never been a US offer that has involved them escorting all UK ships.”

Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary and rival leadership candidate, favors the creation of an EU maritime force in the Gulf to protect shipping. Pooling resources may help in the short term, but a good first move for Prime Minister Johnson would be to start building up the Royal Navy and the U.K.’s whole defensive capability. 

It is hard to understand or justify the need for European autonomy from America in defense matters as the NATO shield has been good for both. NATO member states would do better instead to meet their funding commitments as President Trump has requested.

• Andrew Davies is a U.K.-based video producer and scriptwriter.

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