Britain’s new prime minister came into office on July 24th. The former mayor of London and leader of the 2016 Brexit campaign, Boris Johnson, stood outside the famous black door of 10 Downing Street, addressing the public for the first time as a leader.
The transition began earlier on Wednesday when former prime minister, Theresa May, appeared in the House of Commons for her last session of debates. Lawmakers thanked May for her service, and she commented she was “pleased” to hand over to Johnson, who quit May’s cabinet over her Brexit approach.
According to an analysis of ministerial databases by the Institute for Government, a London-based independent think-tank, the May-Johnson transition is the most significant reshuffling of Cabinet members to happen in more than a decade. In total, 17 members of May’s government were either sacked, resigned or retired.
As per tradition, May curtsied to Queen Elizabeth II on Wednesday afternoon and resigned. Minutes later, Johnson bowed and was asked to form a new government.
Although Johnson and May both hail from the Conservative Party, they are both opposites in disposition and approach to critical political issues. Known for his ardent temperament and political ambition, Johnson started his career as a political journalist in the late 1980s and soon earned a reputation for exaggerating and sometimes inventing facts. To the British public, Johnson was considered the “Hero of the Brexiteers.” Under immense pressure from the then-prime minister David Cameron to support the Remain campaign in 2016, Johnson broke ranks and backed Brexit at the last minute.
As the U.K.’s 77th prime minister, Johnson addressed the public emphasizing that uniting Britain together was his intention. As reported by the BBC, he announced that to give the U.K. “the shot in the arm it needs,” he would immediately focus on key issues that divide the “citizens he now works for.” He talked about reforming social care, investing in education, putting more police on the streets, and improving the National Health Service.
Furthermore, Johnson’s pledge to take the U.K. out of the E.U. on October 31st marked his speech. He promises to threaten Brussels with walking away without a deal and withhold the nearly $50 billion the U.K. owes Europe unless Europe agrees to renegotiate May’s deal. According to the Washington Post, Johnson declared, “I have every confidence that in 99 days time we will have cracked” and be able to exit the E.U. with “a new deal, a better deal.”
In a report by CNN, the main reason why Brexit has not occurred yet is that the U.K.’s political class cannot decide what it wants. The Withdrawal Agreement, commonly known as May’s Brexit deal, failed because it did not satisfy the Europhile and Euroskeptic wings of both the Conservatives and lawmakers who take seats in the House of Commons.
Given that May governed without a parliamentary majority since the 2017 election, without a compromise from Brussels or opposition votes, the lack of consensus inevitably determined the doomed fate of May’s deal.
Three years ago, when May addressed the public for the first time in front of 10 Downing street, she shared similar visions to unite the U.K. and address social issues. These pledges, however, took a backseat due to the focus on negotiating a Brexit deal. While Johnson evokes an enthusiastic leadership to deliver Brexit and tackle issues at home, the same fate might await him. He also faces the challenge of uniting people within his party and across the country, as well as negotiating with 27 other E.U. member states, all of whom influence Brexit. Considering Johnson’s checkered reputation, this will prove challenging and will determine his success to deliver Brexit and as Britain’s next leader.