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CWA # 160, 1 September 2019

United Kingdom
Challenges before Boris Johnson

  Sukanya Bali

From Brexit to foreign policy, Boris Johnson faces five major challenges

Boris Johnson replaced Theresa May and became the new Prime Minister of United Kingdom in July. He has shuffled ministers and formed his ‘war cabinet’ to achieve the best possible outcomes in the long-standing negotiations with the EU and to prepare for a hard Brexit. While taking the oath, Boris Johnson said he would achieve Brexit by 31st October, a ‘do or die’ challenge to accomplish.  

This commentary identifies five major challenges to the new PM.

Make or break Challenge: BREXIT

BREXIT is the first significant challenge for Boris Johnson. To get Britain out of EU, with or without a deal would lead to substantial economic, political and social repercussions for the UK and the world. The majority of EU members is against BREXIT, which has made it challenging to withdraw on its own terms. Walking out of the European Union is one thing but anchoring an independent United Kingdom and charting its future is a matter of bigger concern for the world. 

Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales in BREXIT: Challenges to national unity 

While in the European Union, UK’s only land border between its Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is seamless and ensures an unrestricted movement of people and goods. A no-deal Brexit or a deal without the controversial ‘backstop clause’, would erupt border barriers, which may further disrupt trade, separate families and communities across the border. 

Farmers of Wales are dependent on the European common market to sell their agricultural products. In September 2018, National Farmers Union had indicated a possibility of an embargo of at least six months on UK’s agricultural exports, in the event of a hard Brexit. The blockade is likely to remain in effect until the UK receives EU’s regulatory approvals that are required before exporting into EU member countries. Also, the EU might introduce tariff restrictions post no-deal Brexit, further making it worse for the farmers in the UK. 

Nationalist and separatist movements are gathering momentum in Scotland, where 62 per cent of people had voted for the UK to stay in the EU. Scots are no friends of Boris Johnson, and a no-deal Brexit might add fuel to their demand for independence from the UK. At this stage, the concerns of Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland, in a no-deal Brexit context, threaten to disunite the United Kingdom. 

Prime Minister’s visit to Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland in the first week of his office seemed to be an attempt to garner support. However, protests of varying intensities at his places of visit indicated disapproval towards him and his agenda. A disconnect of the government of UK, under Johnson, with the concerns of different communities, making it challenging to sell a deal in his no-deal Brexit agenda.

Internal Political Challenges

The by-election in Brecon and Radnorshire saw Liberal Democrats come to power leaving the Boris Johnson with merely a-unit-majority in the parliament. Despite party politics, if Boris Johnson happens to get the House of Commons to approve his no-deal Brexit agenda, it would be a bigger challenge to put the no-deal UK in order. It is also possible that the house might put forward a no-confidence motion to remove Boris Johnson and it may lead to general elections. 

Macro-Economic Challenges

The Brexit uncertainty has affected financial markets and has increased the volatility of Sterling. Nearly $25 billion has been withdrawn from UK stocks, since 2016 vote on leaving EU. A no-deal Brexit would entail trade barriers, a fall in income of business, and a plunge in the currency. This may lead to recession and economy may be further hit hard with the low foreign investments. 

The uncertainty is huge. Boris Johnson’s government has announced 2.1 billion pounds spending over 4.2 billion pounds that Theresa May’s government had set aside to prepare for Brexit, which might damage the UK’s economy. Besides, trade disruption of certain medical and consumer products between UK and EU may disturb the livelihood of people in the region. 

Foreign Policy Challenges 

UK’s foreign policy and its immigration policy independent of the EU, is another challenge before Boris Johnson, as UK will need the support of foreign powers as it walks out of the EU. UK’s relationship with EU member countries and others like the US and China is essential. Theresa May’s government had so far signed about 14 agreements with countries in the European Union, to replace 40 agreements of the EU.

UK’s relationship with the US and China, as the countries are engaged in a trade war, is a challenge before Boris Johnson. The release of the Iranian tanker after a ruling from a court in Gibraltar might upset Donald Trump, as it continues to impose sanctions on Iran. The Iran nuclear deal to which UK has said, it would uphold post US withdrawal, is another foreign policy issue for Boris Johnson to address. 

Again, the UK’s relationship with China and its 5G companies like Huawei (which the US has blacklisted) should be deemed important considering the investment capability of China. Boris Johnson would have to wisely hedge between the two great powers to draw support for a UK out of EU without a deal. Days ahead, in a nutshell, are challenging for Prime Minister Boris Johnson and would require his genius to etch his name in good books of history.

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