Will UK’s new PM Boris Johnson deliver on Brexit?

By Mridu Kumari

Boris Johnson, the new British Prime Minister, appears to be in a hurry as within hours of moving into 10 Downing Street in London, he fired 11 Cabinet Ministers and replaced them with staunch Brexiteers like Sajid Javid, ex-Home Secretary and son of a Pakistani bus driver; Dominic Raab, who has been appointed as new Foreign Secretary; Priti Patel who was earlier sacked from Theresa May’s Cabinet for holding secret meetings with the Israeli government; Michael Gove, the new Chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster; Ben Wallace, the new Defence Secretary; Steve Barclay as Brexit Secretary and others. A former columnist, Johnson is known for doing things without proper deliberations and discussions. Result is, controversy sticks to him like a gum to a paper.

Once, he said that Scots should be barred from becoming British Prime Minister because “government by a Scot is just not conceivable.” His dislike for Scots reeks of racism. While as an editor of The Spectator magazine, he republished a poem by James Michie which called Scots “vermin” who should be placed in “ghettos”.  In that way he is a Donald Trump of the UK, who utters words without evaluating their pros and cons. Last year, he likened women in burkas with bank robber and letter boxes. British Muslims are unhappy with his becoming the country’s Prime Minister. Mohammed Amin, who was the former chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum, compared Johnson with Adolf Hitler. Not only that, he said Johnson is morally unfit to be British Prime Minister. Writing a column in a daily in 2017, Johnson said the Libyan city of Sirte, destroyed during civil war, could be the new Dubai: All they have to do is clear the dead bodies away.” On the day he occupied 10 Downing Street, hundreds of people gathered at London’s Russell Square to protest against his ascension on the prime ministerial chair.

Amid such developments, he is supposed to lead his country to a successful Brexit in October, 2019. He will have to tackle with simmering political discontent among Scots who are opposed to exit from the European Union. Scotland’s pro-independence leader Nicola Sturgeon called for second referendum on Scottish statehood. “Scotland did not vote for Brexit, or for the current [Conservative] Government – and certainly not for Boris Johnson as Prime Minister,” said Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) government at the devolved Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, to the media. “All of this underlines the need for Scotland to have the right to determine our own future, in line with the democratic wishes of all those who live here.”  In 2014, Scotland voted against leaving the three centuries-old union with England by 55-45 percent, but two years later opted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU in the Brexit referendum, as votes from England and Wales propelled the UK as a whole towards the European exit door. Prior to his assumption of prime ministerial office, opinion polls indicated that Scots would vote to leave Britain faced with a Johnson premiership. His detractors call him buffoon, but supporters are unmoved by any criticism of the Prime Minister. Instead, they say he brings unfiltered honesty, flair and authenticity to politics.

Despite this, Johnson’s cup of woes has not stopped from overflowing as more and more people are coming forward to speak against him. The French government has warned him against playing games with the Irish border after the new British Prime Minister demanded the ditching of the backstop. Amélie de Montchalin, France’s Minister for European affairs, said both sides should avoid “games, gestures and provocations” with just three months to go before the UK is due to leave the EU.  “It has always been said that if the UK wants to leave the EU if they want to do it in an orderly way, what we have is the best agreement,” she said, adding that “It’s two years of work between the teams of Michel Barnier in Brussels and the British teams…point by point, pragmatically, realistically.” In the last week of July, Johnson said he would not accept a deal that contains the “undemocratic” Irish backstop, the arrangement would keep Northern Ireland under single market regulations and the whole of the UK in a shared customs territory with the EU until an alternative solution can be found to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. Thus while the new UK Prime Minister will have to fight with controversies and political skullduggery, he is known for his colourful personal life.

He has got a divorce from his second wife Marina Wheeler, who is related to Sir Shobha Singh, legendry builder of Lutyens Delhi and father of iconic journalist and writer Khushwant Singh. In 2017 election he got into trouble when he spoke during a campaign in a Bristol Gurdwara about having to carry Scotch whiskey for his relatives whenever he visits India. Despite his India connection or deep familiarity with New Delhi and its political culture, it has to be seen how he steadies the course of India-Britain bilateral relationship that has been in limbo since Britons voted for separation from the EU in 2016. One of Johnson’s priorities when he visited India as Foreign Secretary was to conclude a free trade pact with Asia’s third-largest economy, which would be ready for signing when Britain exited the EU on October 2019. “The time is fast upon us when we need to turbocharge the relationship in the form of a new trade deal,” Johnson had said during a visit in January 2017.