Boris Johnson promised on Thursday that Brexit would make Britain the greatest place on earth, echoing the patriotic rhetoric of U.S. President Donald Trump in a debut speech as prime minister before parliament.
Johnson, who was hailed by the U.S. president as Britain’s Trump, has promised to strike a new Brexit divorce deal with the European Union and to energize the world’s fifth-largest economy after what he casts as the gloom of Theresa May’s premiership.
On entering Downing Street on Wednesday, Johnson set the United Kingdom up for a showdown with the EU by vowing to negotiate a new divorce deal and threatening that if the bloc refused then he would leave without a deal on Oct. 31.
“Our mission is to deliver Brexit on the 31st of October for the purpose of uniting and re-energizing our great United Kingdom and making this country the greatest place on earth,” Johnson told parliament in his first speech as prime minister.
He said he was not being hyperbolic as the United Kingdom could be most prosperous economy in Europe by 2050, a feat that would mean drawing far ahead of France and then overtaking Germany.
Johnson promised British “children and grandchildren will be living longer, happier, healthier, wealthier lives.”
Watch PM Johnson address lawmakers:
Johnson said the Irish backstop, an insurance policy designed to prevent the return of a hard border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland, must be abolished.
“It must be clearly understood that the way to the deal goes by way of the abolition of the backstop,” Johnson said in his first speech as prime minister.
The Irish backstop is contained in a protocol of the withdrawal agreement that Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, agreed to in November.
It is the most contentious part of the deal for British lawmakers who fear it will slice Northern Ireland off from the rest of the United Kingdom. Johnson’s government does not have a majority in Parliament so rules with the help of 10 northern Irish lawmakers from the Democratic Unionist Party, who vehemently oppose the backstop.
When asked about Johnson’s comment, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said he looked forward to discussing the issue with Johnson. Varadkar on Wednesday said Johnson’s pledge of a new Brexit deal was “not in the real world.”
Johnson’s bet is the threat of a no-deal Brexit will persuade the EU’s biggest powers — Germany and France — to agree to revise the previous divorce deal negotiated with May last November. May failed to get that deal ratified by U.K. lawmakers.
New Brexit deal?
The EU has so far repeatedly refused to countenance rewriting the withdrawal agreement, but has said it could change the “political declaration” on future ties that is part of the divorce deal.
If EU leaders refuse to play ball with Johnson and he moves towards a no-deal Brexit, some lawmakers have threatened to thwart what they cast as a disastrous leap into economic chaos.
In those circumstances, Johnson could call an election in a bid to override lawmakers.
Johnson began his time in office by decisively sweeping away May’s cabinet in one of the biggest culls of senior government jobs in recent U.K. history.
Earlier on Thursday, the new prime minister held his first full meeting of the cabinet, in which Brexiteers now dominate the senior posts.
“Night of the Blond Knives,” said the Sun, Britain’s most-read newspaper, a reference to the colour of Johnson’s dishevelled mop of hair and the changes to his government.
A total of 17 ministers in May’s government either resigned or were sacked, creating a powerful new group of enemies in parliament. Most of Johnson’s senior appointees are Brexit supporters.
Sajid Javid, 49, was named as his finance minister. He is a eurosceptic who voted to remain in the 2016 referendum.
Others are avowed Brexiteers:
- Priti Patel was appointed interior minister.
- Dominic Raab was appointed foreign minister.
- Stephen Barclay remained as Brexit minister.
Johnson also appointed Dominic Cummings, the campaign director of the official Brexit Vote Leave campaign, as a senior adviser on Downing Street.