LONDON (Reuters) – Boris Johnson launched his premiership with a pledge to do a bold new Brexit deal with the European Union by Oct. 31, rebuking “gloomsters” and the political class who he said had forgotten the people they should serve.
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson is welcomed in 10 Downing Street by staff after meeting Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II and accepting her invitation to become Prime Minister and form a new government, in London, Britain July 24, 2019. Stefan Rousseau/Pool via REUTERS
Johnson took office on Wednesday, replacing Theresa May who stepped down having failed to deliver Brexit or implement many of the reforms she promised when taking office in 2016.
He comes to power at a time of national crisis, promising Britain will leave the European Union at the end of October but with little sign that Brussels will bend to his demand to sweeten the terms of the country’s departure.
“We are going to fulfill the repeated promises of parliament to the people and come out of the EU on October 31. No ifs or buts,” he said.
“We will do a new deal, a better deal that will maximize the opportunities of Brexit while allowing us to develop a new and exciting partnership with the rest of Europe.”
But in a 12-minute speech in front of the glossy black door to the prime minister’s residence at 10 Downing Street, Johnson delivered a thrusting rebuke to those who have criticized his planned approach as light on detail and heavy on rhetoric.
“The doubters, the doomsters, the gloomsters – they are going to get it wrong again,” Johnson said, rocking up on the balls of his feet as he spoke.
“The people who bet against Britain are going to lose their shirts.”
Despite Brussels’ refusal to renegotiate, Johnson wants to renegotiate a new deal with the EU, ditching large parts of the accord May struck with Brussels last year, which was rejected by parliament three times.
But Johnson said he would take “personal responsibility” for delivering changes, not least to the most contentious part of the deal – the Irish backstop, which acts as an insurance policy to prevent border controls between EU member Ireland and British province Northern Ireland.
“Never mind the backstop – the buck stops here,” he said.
Casting aside his trademark clownish demeanor and rambling delivery, he followed a written script, setting out an ambitious agenda beyond Brexit – promising tax reform, a new social care system, and an economic stimulus package.
“I will tell you something else about my job. It is to be Prime Minister of the whole United Kingdom and that means uniting our country, answering at last the plea of the forgotten people and the left-behind towns,” he said.
Such speeches matter.
In 2010 Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron warned the country difficult decisions lay ahead, preparing voters for the beginning of an era of government budget cuts.
In 2016, when May took office, she promised to make Brexit a reality and set out an ambitious agenda beyond, delivering a blunt diagnosis of Britain’s failures on racial, class and gender equality and vowing to tackle those “burning injustices”.
But while the speech was seen as one of her best, her hopes of achieving far-reaching social reforms were quickly overwhelmed by the relentless task of delivering Brexit, leaving her open to regular and brutal criticism by political opponents.
Johnson delivered praise for his predecessor’s “fortitude and patience”, but also repeatedly promised a new, more decisive leadership style – a dig at what many critics saw as May’s sometimes ponderous and secretive approach to Brexit.
“The time has come to act, to take decisions to give strong leadership and to change this country for the better,” Johnson said.
“If there is one thing that has really sapped the confidence of business over the last three years it is not the decisions we have taken, it is our refusal to take decisions.”
Editing by Stephen Addison