LONDON – Boris Johnson took over Wednesday as prime minister of the United Kingdom, heading up an administration that is focused on delivering Brexit by the current Oct. 31 deadline.
The controversial politician, who beat out Jeremy Hunt in the race to succeed Theresa May as leader of the ruling Conservative Party and head of the UK’s government, assumed that double role with an unequivocal pledge to honor the result of the 2016 referendum, in which Britons narrowly voted in favor of a British exit from the European Union.
Swiftly acting on that promise, Johnson dismissed the vast majority of ministers who had served under his predecessor and replaced them with individuals who support Brexit at any cost.
Johnson’s foreign secretary is Dominic Raab, who said upon resigning as May’s Brexit secretary late last year that she had made excessive concessions to Brussels, while the current Brexit secretary, Stephen Barclay, will remain at his post.
Former banker Sajid Javid will move from home secretary to the prestigious position of chancellor of the exchequer, while his former post will occupied by Priti Patel, a staunch Eurosceptic who resigned from her position as secretary of state for international development in November 2017 after coming under fire for holding unauthorized meetings with senior Israeli officials.
Ben Wallace, who backed Johnson in the Conservative Party leadership contest, takes over as defense secretary, while the former London mayor rewarded friend and longstanding Tory rival Michael Gove with the position of minister of Cabinet office.
The new prime minister also named as his special adviser Dominic Cummings, the controversial architect of the Vote Leave campaign.
Cummings has been accused of making false promises in the lead-up to the June 23, 2016, Brexit referendum and was fined for violating election laws.
Johnson, who was appointed prime minister on Wednesday by Queen Elizabeth II, vowed in his first public address outside 10 Downing Street, the prime minister’s official residence in London, to deliver Brexit by Oct. 31 and said there was a remote possibility of the UK leaving the EU without a withdrawal deal.
He promised to negotiate a “new deal, a better deal” with the EU that guarantees the UK’s exit from the bloc and does not feature the current agreement’s “anti-democratic” Irish backstop clause.
That safety clause, aimed at averting the establishment of a hard border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland, was a key obstacle preventing approval of the deal reached between May’s government and the EU and led to her resignation as prime minister on June 7.
Critics of the backstop say it could trap the UK in a permanent customs union with the EU.
Johnson said he would show the “doubters” and “gloomsters” that they are mistaken and that he will be able to reach a satisfactory withdrawal agreement with the EU, although Brussels reiterated on Wednesday that it has no intention of reopening the negotiations.
The new head of government added that a no-deal Brexit is a “remote possibility” but that the UK is prepared for that eventuality.
He also warned that he would withhold a previously agreed 39-billion-pound (44-billion-euro) Brexit payment (for outstanding liabilities to the EU) unless Brussels negotiates a better deal.
Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, for his part, has warned that he will table a no-confidence motion against the new government when the time is right and he has the parliamentary majority to ensure its success.
Corbyn also has called for a new general election, saying that the UK deserves more than the “empty bluster” of the new Tory leader.
Johnson is expected to continue naming members of his Cabinet in the coming hours; he may also appear before the House of Commons prior to its imminent six-week summer recess.