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Brexit Supporters Get What They Wanted As Boris Johnson Becomes Prime Minister


In the United Kingdom, supporters of Brexit are getting the Prime Minister they wanted.


THERESA MAY: I give notice that Boris Johnson is elected as the leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party.


SHAPIRO: Conservatives in Parliament today chose Boris Johnson over foreign minister Jeremy Hunt. And Johnson vowed to make good on the referendum to pull Britain out of the European Union.


PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: And I say - I say to all the doubters, dude, we are going to energize the country. We're going to get Brexit done on October the 31st. We're going to take advantage of all the opportunities that it will bring in a new spirit of can do.

SHAPIRO: Tomorrow the Queen will summon Johnson to Buckingham Palace and invite him to form the next government. Then Brexit will officially be his problem to solve. To talk about how Johnson will approach it, we are joined by George Parker of the Financial Times. Welcome back to the program.


SHAPIRO: Boris Johnson promises that under his leadership, Britain will pull out of the European Union by October 31 with or without a deal. He says do or die. Do you believe him?

PARKER: No, I don't if you want my honest opinion of that. Basically, Boris Johnson thinks he can renegotiate Theresa May's deal with the European Union. Don't forget that took her two years to negotiate almost from scratch in a matter of weeks, bearing in mind that most of the European Union and indeed Westminster will be closed down for the summer holidays fairly shortly. So it's an incredibly tight timetable. So I think that's unlikely.

And as an alternative, he's saying if he can't get a deal by October the 31st, then he'll leave without a deal. Again, that would be massively disruptive. Britain isn't prepared for that kind of upheaval. So I think despite the fact he's been saying throughout this campaign do or die, we're leaving on the 31st of October, I think that's probably the first false claim that's certainly going to be exposed by the passage of time.

SHAPIRO: Well, just to play this out, his entire political career for the last five years has been built around pulling the U.K. out of the European Union. If he doesn't keep this promise, what does that mean?

PARKER: If he doesn't keep his promise, then there'll be a group of Conservative MPs in his party who will turn on him with a vengeance. They'll feel they've been betrayed. So the pressure is really on Boris Johnson to live up to the rhetoric, which I think in practice he'll find hard to deliver once he's inside Number 10 receiving official briefings, which will essentially say it's all a bit more complicated, prime minister, than you thought.

SHAPIRO: Your column describes this as the most difficult time for any British prime minister during peace. Is he up to the challenge?

PARKER: He's a - he's an eclectic politician. And it was interesting to hear the U.S. president Donald Trump today saying he's Britain's Trump. I don't think he's quite Donald Trump. He's a bright guy, Boris Johnson. He's very articulate. He can put a smile on people's face. His instincts, I think, are probably quite socially liberal.

But he has many flaws, and they've been exposed throughout the campaign. He's someone who's not very good at detail. He's someone who says one thing in the morning and says a different thing in the afternoon. He's someone whose principles don't seem to be very fixed. So those are the many flaws that people are aware of in Boris Johnson. These are quite well known. But I think the Conservative Party felt we need a Brexiteer, someone who actually believes in Brexit, to finally deliver on this project, and someone, frankly, who can change the political weather after three years of fairly grey leadership under Theresa May.

SHAPIRO: There's this kind of two-sidedness to Boris Johnson, where on the one hand, he is sort of over-the-top and almost deliberately provocative and sometimes intentionally ridiculous. And yet when you look at his record for eight years as mayor of London, he was pretty center-of-the-road, relatively well-liked. So which kind of Boris Johnson do you think we're going to see as prime minister of the U.K.?

PARKER: Well, it's a good question. And I think probably it's possible to see two different kinds of Boris Johnson. So I think the first Boris Johnson we'll see is the very tough Brexiteer. But I think in his head, he thinks that if Brexit can be delivered, then he can pivot to the center and adopt the kind of socially liberal, compassionate, conservative policies that he deployed when he was mayor of London. He was very popular in a very cosmopolitan city. He was the Conservative, if it was possible, for Labour people to like.

Now Boris Johnson is not the same politician anymore. He divides the country like almost no one else now because of his role as a leading champion of the Brexit cause. But nevertheless, that's how I think he would like to govern, as somebody delivers Brexit and then pivots to the center, and from his point of view, hopefully defeats a very hard left Jeremy-Corbyn-led Labour Party.

SHAPIRO: And so in the first weeks that Boris Johnson is prime minister, what signs are you going to be looking for about the kind of leader that he'll be?

PARKER: Well, I think we're going have to find out very quickly what Boris Johnson's Brexit policy is. European leaders are determined to find out that very quickly. They want to know whether he's serious about having a new deal or not, or whether he's dead set on a no deal exit. So I think that's the first thing we're going to be watching out for.

Everything really will be determined by whether he can resolve Brexit in the next two or three months. If he can do that, and it's a huge if, then I think actually the prospects for Boris Johnson premiership don't look too bad. I think he could quite easily beat a very divided Labour Party in a general election, but only if he can somehow take Britain out of the EU as a united country without inflicting significant economic damage on the country. And I think those are very big ifs.

SHAPIRO: George Parker, political editor of the Financial Times, good to talk with you again.

PARKER: A pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.