No ifs or buts, it's Brexit on Oct 31, vows new PM Johnson

He plans to speed up no-deal exit to threaten EU into renegotiation

Mr Boris Johnson enters 10 Downing Street at a perilous point in British history - the country is divided over Brexit, the pound is weak and the economy at risk of recession.
PHOTO: DPA
Mr Boris Johnson enters 10 Downing Street at a perilous point in British history - the country is divided over Brexit, the pound is weak and the economy at risk of recession. PHOTO: DPA From top: Mr Dominic Cummings, Mr Sajid Javid and Mr Alok Sharma
From Left: Mr Dominic Cummings, Mr Sajid Javid and Mr Alok Sharma are expected to be part of the new British government.

LONDON • Mr Boris Johnson took office as British Prime Minister yesterday, vowing to implement the result of the 2016 Brexit referendum and lead Britain out of the European Union on Oct 31, with "no ifs or buts".

Mr Johnson enters 10 Downing Street at one of the most perilous junctures in post-World War II British history - the country is divided over its divorce from the EU and weakened by the three-year political crisis that has gripped it since that referendum.

One of Britain's most prominent Brexit campaigners, Mr Johnson has repeatedly pledged to leave the EU by Oct 31 - "do or die" - and to inject a new optimism and energy into the divorce, which he argues will bring a host of opportunities.

But his strategy sets Britain up for a showdown with the EU and also thrusts it towards a potential constitutional crisis, or an election.

"The people who bet against Britain are going to lose their shirts because we are going to restore trust in our democracy, and we are going to fulfil the repeated promises of Parliament to the people and come out of the EU on Oct 31, no ifs or buts," Mr Johnson, 55, said after arriving at his new residence, 10 Downing Street.

One of the issues that prevented his predecessor, Mrs Theresa May, from getting a divorce deal through Parliament was the Irish "backstop" - a provision that would maintain a Customs union with the EU if no better solution was found.

Mr Johnson was bullish, however.

"Never mind the backstop. The buck stops here," he said, watched by his girlfriend, Ms Carrie Symonds, and his staff.

  • WHAT JOHNSON SAYS

  • On leaving the EU on Oct 31

    "The people who bet against Britain are going to lose their shirts because we are going to restore trust in our democracy, and we are going to fulfil the repeated promises of Parliament to the people and come out of the EU on Oct 31, no ifs or buts...

    "The doubters, the gloomsters, the doomsters are going to get it wrong again... Never mind the backstop, the buck stops here."

    On preparedness for Brexit

    "In high hearts and growing confidence, we will now accelerate the work of getting ready. And the ports will be ready and the banks will be ready, the factories will be ready and business will be ready and the hospitals will be ready, and our amazing food and farming sector will be ready and waiting to continue selling ever more, not just here but around the world."

    On serving the voters

    "Though the Queen has just honoured me with this extraordinary office of state, my job is to serve you, the people. Because if there is one point we politicians need to remember, it is that the people are our bosses."

He said he would ensure "the people" were his bosses, and that he would accelerate preparations for a "no-deal" Brexit - the threat he intends to use to force a reluctant EU to renegotiate the exit deal it agreed with Mrs May.

To implement Brexit, Mr Johnson was set to appoint Mr Dominic Cummings, the campaign director of the official Brexit Vote Leave campaign, as a senior adviser at Downing Street.

Mrs May left Downing Street after a three-year premiership that was marred by crises over Brexit.

She formally tendered her resignation to Queen Elizabeth II yesterday. Mrs May appeared to be fighting back tears as she was applauded out of the House of Commons chamber. Her finance minister, Mr Philip Hammond, resigned.

Mr Johnson had a possible foretaste of turmoil ahead when, en route to his audience with the Queen, Greenpeace protesters tried - but failed - to block the path of his car as his chauffeur drove around them.

The Queen requested he form an administration. His formal title is now "Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury". His first task was to appoint key members of the government - names that will give a hint of how he will handle Brexit.

The pound is weak, the economy at risk of recession, allies are in despair at the Brexit crisis and foes are testing Britain's vulnerability.

The ruling Conservative Party has no majority in Parliament and so can only govern with the support of 10 lawmakers from the Brexit-backing Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland.

While Mr Johnson has said he does not want an early election, some lawmakers have vowed to thwart any attempt to leave the EU without a divorce deal.

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage said he was open to an electoral pact with Mr Johnson.

Interior Minister Sajid Javid was widely tipped to stay in a top job - possibly as finance minister - and was spotted flanking Mr Johnson as he arrived to meet lawmakers.

There was talk that Mr Johnson would appoint career diplomat David Frost as adviser on Europe.

A record number of ethnic minority politicians are expected to serve as ministers including former aid minister Priti Patel, who resigned in 2017 over undisclosed meetings with Israeli officials, and Employment Minister Alok Sharma.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Mr Johnson's rival for the leadership, was offered the job of defence minister but turned it down, Sky News TV reported.

REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2019, with the headline No ifs or buts, it's Brexit on Oct 31, vows new PM Johnson. Subscribe