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On July 23rd, the United Kingdom’s Conservative Party elected Boris Johnson as its leader. As a result, Johnson became the nation’s prime minister when Theresa May stepped down the next day.
Johnson, best known as a prominent Brexit advocate and for his term as mayor of London from 2008 through 2016, received 92,153 votes from the ruling Conservative Party’s members. Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt, Johnson’s main competitor, received 46,656, just about half that number.
In a speech following his victory, Johnson stressed his mandate to see Brexit through to completion. He also explicitly vowed to “defeat” Jeremy Corbyn, a notable anti-Brexit figure who leads the country’s Labour party. Johnson stated that he seeks to “unite” the United Kingdom, but he may face challenges in doing so — despite his ascension to the prime ministership, only 0.13 percent of the country’s population voted for him.
Johnson intends to move forward on a new Brexit deal with the European Union. Despite his party’s urgency to remove the U.K. from the EU, those with the union’s headquarters in Brussels remain closed to negotiations, even with an October 31st deadline looming.
The EU is not alone in resisting the Conservative Party’s Brexit agenda — on three different occasions, the British parliament has rejected the only deal that the party has presented. Even within the Conservative Party, pro-EU “rebels” are attempting to block Brexit from occurring without a fair deal in place.
Instead, the EU has stated that it hopes to sign the Brexit deal that Theresa May devised during her time leading the U.K. In a tweet after Johnson secured the prime ministership, EU negotiator Michel Barnier emphasized that the EU would be happy to “work constructively” with Johnson towards May’s deal and implied that any other options would not be considered.
British political commentators have noted that Johnson’s power may be fragile. In addition to his low share of electoral support, Johnson has inherited a party majority much less secure than May’s. In fact, in next week’s by-election, Johnson and the Conservative Party could very well lose one of three vital seats that allow the party to maintain its rule over the U.K. Such a loss could portend other members of parliament (MPs) defecting from the Conservative Party, and if such defections happened in large enough numbers, Jeremy Corbyn could mandate a confidence vote to secure the Labour party’s takeover of U.K. politics.
Conservative Party members are already fleeing the party. Many MPs have declared their intent to resign in hopes of combating a no-deal Brexit. Such an outcome would all but certainly plunge the U.K. into a severe economic downturn.
Johnson won Conservative Party leadership with two-thirds of the party’s vote, but even the 140,000 members voting represent a massive decline in party membership. In 2005, when British prime minister David Cameron headed the party, its membership totaled more than 250,000. The party’s current membership is mostly male, based in the Southern U.K., and almost entirely white.