World

‘Johnson faces challenging times’

Incoming UK Prime Minister (PM) Boris Johnson faces “challenging” times, the European Union (EU) has warned, as it reacted to his election as new Conservative leader.

Mr Johnson has the immediate task of guiding the UK out of the EU ahead of October 31deadline.

He says he wants to renegotiate an agreement with the EU, ditching large parts of the deal outgoing PM Theresa May struck last year.

But EU leaders have said the withdrawal agreement is not up for renegotiation.

The European Commission’s newly elected President, Ursula von der Leyen, has though said she is willing to grant the UK another extension to Brexit talks, if it comes up with good reasons.

Congratulating Mr Johnson, Ms von der Leyen said: “There are many different and difficult topics to tackle together. There are challenging times ahead of us. I think it is very important to build up a strong and a good working relation because we have the duty to deliver something that is good for people in Europe and in the United Kingdom.”

The EU’s Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, is due to meet MEPs on the European Parliament’s Brexit Steering Group in an extraordinary meeting today to respond to Mr Johnson’s election.

In the often divisive Brexit world of “them and us”, it is easy to forget that, beyond Brexit, EU leaders still see the UK as a close partner and ally.

Tuesday’s messages of congratulation to Boris Johnson from across Europe were a timely reminder.

Whatever happens with Brexit, France, Germany, Poland et al still very much hope to work closely with the UK on international issues like Russia sanctions, Iran and human rights protection.

But EU leaders’ welcoming tone does not signal a willingness to accept whatever Prime Minister Johnson might demand in terms of changes to the Brexit deal. He’s right when he says a no-deal Brexit is bad for Brussels, but he overestimates EU wiggle room. Amendments will only be forthcoming if EU leaders deem them workable and are convinced the new prime minister commands a majority in parliament to get the Brexit deal through once and for all. –BBC

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