LONDON: Britain’s new Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday called the current Brexit deal negotiated with the EU “unacceptable” and set preparations for leaving the bloc without an agreement as a “top priority” for the government.
In a pugnacious debut in parliament, the former London mayor urged EU leaders to rethink their opposition to renegotiating the deal.
After installing a right-wing government following a radical overhaul, Johnson doubled down on his promise to lead Britain out of the EU by October 31 at any cost.
In case of a no-deal exit, he also threatened to withhold the £39 billion ($49 billion) divorce bill that Britain has previously said it owes the EU and instead spend the money for preparations for leaving with no agreement.
Johnson told a raucous session of parliament in which he was repeatedly shouted down by opposing MPs that the draft deal his predecessor Theresa May reached with the 27 EU leaders would “sign away our economic independence”.
“Its terms are unacceptable to this parliament and to this country,” Johnson said — a day after purging more than half the ministers in his predecessor Theresa May’s team.
“Today is the first day of a new approach, which will end with our exit from the EU on 31 October,” the 55-year-old said.
– Right-wing government –
Johnson has assembled a team of social conservatives and Brexit hardliners who argue that leaving the EU after 46 years without an agreement will be less painful than economists warn.
The markets were relieved by the appointment of former Deutsche Bank Sajid Javid as finance chief.
The pound held steady against the dollar and euro as traders waited for Johnson’s first policy moves.
Other appointments were more divisive.
Brexit hardliner Dominic Raab became foreign secretary and Jacob Rees-Mogg — leader of a right-wing faction of Conservatives who helped bring about May’s demise — as the government’s parliament representative.
New interior minister Priti Patel has previously expressed support for the death penalty and voted against same-sex marriage.
The Labour opposition-backing Mirror newspaper called it “Britain’s most right-wing government since the 1Reuters
– ‘Not in the real world’ –
Johnson argues that his threat of a chaotic end to Britain’s EU involvement will force Brussels to relent and give London better terms that would let it pursue trade deals with powers such as China and the United States.
Brexit backers in parliament had accused May of ignoring voters’ wishes by promising to keep the UK tied to the bloc’s economic rules if necessary to preserve a free-flowing border between EU member Ireland and Britain’s Northern Ireland.
Johnson’s solution for the frontier revolves around proposals that have been rejected as either unworkable or insufficient by both EU and Irish leaders.
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar — his heavily trade-dependent nation standing to lose most from a messy EU-UK split — bluntly told Johnson on Wednesday that he needed to compromise.
EU spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said in Brussels on Thursday that the bloc’s position “remains unchanged”.
“The deal we have achieved is the best deal possible,” Andreeva said.
– Diplomatic dilemmas –
Johnson will have the backing of his governing Conservative party but not the nation in his first days in office.
He beat the now-former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt by a two-to-one margin in a vote held by fewer than 160,000 paying members of the Conservatives.
But a YouGov survey found his approval rating in Britain as a whole at just 31 percent.
Even his biggest critics in London and Brussels have been willing to give Johnson a chance to try his own luck at resolving the Brexit mess.
But his problems further abroad are more immediate — and just as challenging.
Iran’s seizure last Friday of a British-flagged tanker in the Gulf thrusts Johnson into the middle of the Islamic republic’s escalating standoff with US President Donald Trump.
And Trump’s bid to contain China’s global clout has forced Britain into an uncomfortable choice over what technology to use in its now-delayed rollout of the next-generation 5G data network.
Johnson boasts a friendship with Trump that his doubters fear will make Britain beholden to the mercurial White House chief’s unpredictable foreign policies.
His supporters, however, say the relationship could boost Britain’s chances of clinching a post-Brexit trade deal with the United States.