Boris Johnson, the Brexiteer who has promised to lead Britain out of the European Union with or without a deal by the end of October, will replace Theresa May as prime minister after winning the leadership of the Conservative Party yesterday.
His convincing victory catapults the United Kingdom towards a showdown with the EU and towards a constitutional crisis at home, as British lawmakers have vowed to bring down any government that tries to leave the bloc without a divorce deal.
Johnson, the face of the 2016 Brexit referendum, won the votes of 92,000 members of the Conservative Party, almost twice as many as his rival, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
May will leave office today after going to Buckingham Palace to see Queen Elizabeth, who will formally appoint Johnson.
“We are going to get Brexit done on October 31, and we are going to take advantage of all the opportunities it will bring in a new spirit of ‘can do’,” Johnson, 55, said after the result was announced.
“Like some slumbering giant, we are going to rise and ping off the guy-ropes of self-doubt and negativity.”
Johnson said the mantra of his campaign had been to “deliver Brexit, unite the country and defeat (opposition Labour leader) Jeremy Corbyn — and that is what we are going to do”.
US President Donald Trump congratulated Johnson, saying he would be great. “A really good man is going to be the prime minister of the UK now, Boris Johnson. A good man. He’s tough and he’s smart.
They’re saying ‘Britain Trump.’ They’re calling him ‘Britain Trump,’” the US president said.
He added that Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, who was attending the event, would “work well with Boris.”
An avowed Brexit supporter will now lead the government for the first time since the United Kingdom voted by a 52%-48% margin in June 2016 to leave the EU.
Britain, in the middle of one of the most tumultuous moments in its modern history, will be now led by a flamboyant figure known for his ambition, untidy blond hair, flowery oratory and cursory command of policy detail.
The 2016 referendum showed a United Kingdom split over much more than the EU, and fuelled soul-searching about everything from regional secession and immigration to capitalism, the legacy of empire and what Britishness means in the modern world.
Johnson has pledged to negotiate a new divorce deal with the EU to secure a smooth transition.
But if the bloc continues to refuse to renegotiate, he has promised to leave anyway — “do or die” — on the current agreed date of October 31 — Halloween.
Many investors and economists say that such an abrupt step would shake global markets and tip the world’s fifth largest economy into recession or even chaos.
The EU said a no-deal Brexit would be a tragedy for both parties but reiterated that the withdrawal deal negotiated by May’s government was not up for negotiation.
A Brexit without a divorce deal to soften the transition would also weaken London’s position as the leading international financial centre while jolting the northern European economy.
Johnson’s Conservatives need the support of 10 lawmakers from Northern Ireland’s Brexit-backing Democratic Unionist Party for even a wafer-thin majority in parliament.
Some Conservative lawmakers have threatened to topple the government to avert a no-deal Brexit, a step that would probably deepen Britain’s crisis and lead to an election.
Johnson told Conservative Party lawmakers in parliament that he does not want to hold an early general election, senior lawmaker Nicky Morgan said.
The rise of Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, often referred to as simply “Boris”, to prime minister is the grandest twist in a career that has taken him from journalism via TV show fame, comedy and scandal into the cauldron of the Brexit crisis.
Born in New York, he was educated at Eton, Britain’s most exclusive school, and at Balliol College, Oxford.
He began his career at a management consultancy in the City of London but dropped out after a week.
He then turned to journalism, but was sacked from the Times newspaper for making up quotes.
Hired by the Daily Telegraph, Johnson infuriated European officials and delighted then prime minister Margaret Thatcher by lampooning the European Economic Community with sometimes misleading reports from Brussels.
After entering politics, he was dismissed from the Conservative Party’s policy team while in opposition for lying about an extramarital affair.
He and his wife announced last year they were to divorce and he is now in a relationship with the party’s 31-year-old ex-communications chief, Carrie Symonds.