Gloves-off Johnson: What UK's new PM means for EU, US, and Ukraine

Author : Georgiy Kuhaleyshvili

Source : 112 Ukraine

Johnson was one of the first to highlight the problem of the annexation of Crimea in the British media, MH17 tragedy, down by the pro-Russian separatists over the occupied areas of Donbas
09:27, 29 July 2019

PA photos

Boris Johnson, former Foreign Minister and mayor of London, has become the new prime minister of the UK and the leader of the ruling Conservative party. 66% of British Conservatives voted for him. He has already taken office and launched forming of a new British government.

Johnson would have to bring to end the UK's exit from the EU, to establish relations with the United States in the face of controversy. The British Conservatives perceive Johnson as a counterweight to the opposition Labor Party and the "Brexit Party," who are eager to take power into their own hands.

He has a difficult task to justify the confidence of his supporters in a tight timeline. Ukraine closely monitors the developments after the change of power in the UK, which, along with the United States, stands at the forefront of Western sanctions policy against Russia.

The Battle for Independence

During the struggle for the premiership, Johnson has gained a reputation as a tough and decisive leader, who, unlike other contenders, is prepared to take unpopular steps for the UK's withdrawal from the EU until October 31.

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Unlike his more radical adherent Nigel Farage of the Brexit Party, who advocates the idea of ​​a UK exit from the EU without a deal, Johnson intends to agree with the European Commission on a new agreement on Brexit. Johnson criticized the draft agreement, agreed upon by ex-prime minister Theresa May with European Commission chairman Jean-Claude Juncker in Strasbourg. He emphasized that the transitional period until the end of 2020, with the observance of European rules in the field of trade, social policy deprives the British of all the benefits of Brexit. Johnson opposes paying $ 50 billion to Brussels as compensation for leaving the EU.

After being elected Conservative leader, Johnson stressed that the UK's goal was to maintain free trade and cooperation with the EU in the area of ​​security and defense with full country’s self-governance.

The British prime minister expects to persuade European officials to make adjustments to the existing agreement or to conclude a new one. The ideal option is an agreement on a free trade area between the UK and the EU. Johnson plans to strengthen trade and economic relations with the countries of the British Commonwealth, such as India, Pakistan, South Africa, Australia, the countries of North Africa and the Middle East, as well as with the United States.

At the moment, this is hampered by high import duties for the third countries. It is advantageous for Johnson to keep the logistics chains, production cooperation, and export-import cooperation with the European countries, which have been elaborated for 46 years in the EU.

Related: Ghost voters: Why Ukraine's authorities are afraid of the population census

The new prime minister does not agree with the agreement on the maintenance of an open border between Ireland and the British region of Northern Ireland until London and Brussels have reached new trade agreements.

There is no guarantee that Johnson would succeed in gaining a diplomatic victory in negotiations with European officials regarding Brexit. At the end of last year, European Commission chairman Jean-Claude Juncker warned Theresa May that the EU did not intend to review the terms of the agreement. Since then, the EU position on this issue has not changed.

Recently, EU negotiator Michel Barnier said he was interested in working constructively with Johnson on accelerating the ratification of the agreement on the UK's withdrawal from the EU in the British Parliament.

The EU might redefine the provisions of the declaration on future EU-UK relations and to pay a package of financial aid to Northern Ireland in the amount of several billion pounds if Brexit is a complicated challenge.

Barney did not say anything about the possibility of making amendments to the agreement. France's Minister for European Affairs Natalie Loiseau said that the EU was interested in constructive relations with the UK, and expressed its intention to uphold the existing agreement that suits the Europeans.

Vice-President of the European Commission, France Timmermans, is sure that the agreement on the Brexit is not subject to revision, ignoring the fact that British parliamentarians have repeatedly refused to ratify the document as it is.

If Johnson cannot agree on anything with Barnier and Juncker, whose powers as chairman of the European Commission expire in October, he will have no choice but to put into action the "challenging" Brexit script, as he promised.

Exiting the EU without an agreement is not too popular among British parliamentarians. Johnson may suspend the activities of the British Parliament in order to get out of the EU by October 31, but this requires the approval of Queen Elizabeth II. There is no guarantee that the British monarch would support an unpopular decision.

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Early parliamentary elections are possible, and their consequences are ambiguous. In the last elections to the European Parliament in the UK, the Brexit Party of Nigel Farrage won with a large separation from the Labourists, Liberal Democrats, and Conservatives. Over 30% of voters supported it.

Despite the common views on Brexit, Farrage is a serious competitor to Johnson, since his party may take away part of the electorate from conservatives in early parliamentary elections. On the other hand, it would be easier for Johnson to implement the "hard" Brexit scenario if Farrage was his partner in the coalition and not Arlene Foster, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party.

Delay of Brexit to a later date will negatively affect Johnson's ranking, as this would mean that the prime minister did not manage his task and put his supporters under his control. Representatives of the opposition are interested in this.

The Labor Party and the Liberal Democratic Party are trying to develop ratings on the subject of countering the "hard" Brexit. Labor leader Jeremy Corbin has been campaigning for a second referendum on leaving the EU and proposes a vote of no confidence in Johnson.

According to the May poll of the British sociological resource What UK Thinks, in the event of a new referendum on Brexit, 52% of Britons are ready to vote. The expediency of continuing the procedure begun by the British withdrawal from the EU will disappear by itself.

Atlantic border

US President Donald Trump has already congratulated Johnson on his victory. It looks like for the Oval Office leader, the eccentric British Euroskeptic is the most desirable figure in the chair of the British prime minister. The American president has repeatedly spoken about Johnson in a positive way and even called him "British Trump."

Open source

The American president appreciates Johnson's intention to increase defense spending. Both leaders unite the propensity for right-wing populism, they support Brexit, criticize the existing agreement to withdraw from the EU and advocate signing an agreement on the free trade zone between the United Kingdom and the United States.

Johnson sees in a trade agreement with the United States the possibility of partially offsetting the loss of access to the single market in the case of "tough" Brexit. According to The National Interest, the United States and the UK can reduce their bilateral trade duties in the free trade area

In 2018, the volume of bilateral trade in goods and services amounted to over 260 billion dollars. Britain is in 7th place among US trade and economic partners. Lack of duties will contribute to the growth of trade in goods and services. According to a poll by YouGov, 64% of Americans and 67% of Britons support the free trade area of ​​the United States and the UK. Part of British society is skeptical about this.

In a free trade zone with the United States, it will have to launch American competitors' medicines on its market, to allow the supply of currently banned genetically modified meat produced in the States. The volume of British trade with the US is two thirds less than with all EU member states.

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In 2018, in terms of access to the common market, the UK and EU trade turnover was about $ 792 billion (£ 634 billion). The British are embarrassed by the fact that the US prefers national producers in public procurement, and therefore the chances of winning British companies in government tenders are minimal.

Trump could, however, meet Johnson and take into account the wishes of the British side in an agreement on a free trade area in exchange for supporting the US position in international relations. The United States needs United Kingdom support in the confrontation with Iran, in the settlement of the armed conflict in Syria and in the civil strife in Venezuela, in the sphere of counteraction to Russia and China on the world stage.

American-British relations are not in the best state after the diplomatic scandal with UK Ambassador to the United States Kim Darroch who spoke unfavorably about Trump and criticized his foreign policy course. The May government did not support the US withdrawal from a nuclear deal with Iran. Nevertheless, Johnson takes a similar position with Trump to Iran.

Related: Gibraltar incident: Iran breaks up relationship with EU

In 2015, Johnson called a fragile nuclear deal with Iran, expressing concern about his provocative behavior in the Middle East. Like Trump, Johnson does not support military action against Iran. Johnson will not be disturbed by the support of the American allies in the wake of the outbreak of a crisis in connection with the capture by the Iranian security forces of the British tanker.

The British prime minister has a dual-position in relation to China. He supports the protesters of the former British colony of Hong Kong against the Beijing-imposed extradition law. Johnson does not consider it necessary to risk the US national security by providing access to the Chinese spy suspect Huawei to the British 5G telecommunications network, as there are options for attracting investment from the other countries.

However, Johnson is enthusiastic about the Chinese "One Belt, One Way" transport and infrastructure initiative, while the US considers the project a tool for China's economic expansion in the world.

Johnson would have been much more trusted by Trump in the British Prime Minister's office if his country remained as part of the EU. Eurosceptic Johnson could stand at the forefront of European conservatives instead of Marin Le Pen, the leader of the French National Movement, or Matteo Salvini, the Italian Interior Minister, who wants to reform the EU, but do not particularly support the idea of ​​a rapprochement with Washington and advocate for a rapprochement with Russia.

Johnson could become the guide to the US-British vision of the future of Europe in an alliance with the United States. Johnson, along with Farrage, whose party entered the European Parliament, could resist advocates for strengthening European integration and transforming the EU into an independent center of power, such as Ursula von der Leyen, the chairman of the European Commission from the German Christian Democrats Party, or Charles Michel, the next chairman of the European Council. After the withdrawal from the EU, London's role as a conductor of Washington's interests in Europe will be reduced.

The British prime minister claims to be an equal partner in the US-UK tandem, rather than the right-wing hands of a former British PM Tony Blair in dealing with former US President George W. Bush.

Blair actively supported the US military operation in Iraq in spite of opposition from other European countries such as Germany and France. Johnson sees Britain as a global power collaborating with various centers of power, not part of a united Europe.

Ukrainian front

Boris Johnson’s coming to power in the UK coincided with the summing-up of Ukraine’s early parliamentary elections, on which Servant of the People party of President Volodymyr Zelensky gained a victory. Now, new people stand at the helm of our countries. Zelensky has already congratulated Johnson on victory.

Of course, Johnson, who is struggling for Brexit, cannot be compared with President Zelensky, who does not have a solid political background that stands on the lines of liberalism and declares the importance of European integration of Ukraine. In either case, both leaders are distinguished by unpredictability and eccentricity, both positioned as representatives of the people, not elites.

Ukraine does not have a one-to-one relationship with Johnson, around which an incorrect stereotype of an illiterate isolated from the reality of the populist and even the Russophile has developed. There is a one-sided perception of Eurosceptics as agents of the Kremlin's influence, who are interested in "destroying" the EU or getting out of its membership.

We should not forget about the Russian information influence. We should not repeat the mistakes of ex-president Poroshenko team and to present Johnson in a negative way, as we did with Trump in 2016, without having even realized his position on the Ukrainian question.

Related: Ghost voters: Why Ukraine's authorities are afraid of the population census

Johnson was one of the first to highlight the problem of the annexation of Crimea in the British media, MH17 tragedy, down by the pro-Russian separatists over the occupied areas of Donbas. In his opinion, the violation of the territorial integrity of an independent European state should not be left to the attention of the EU.

Johnson fights for continuing anti-Russian sanctions until they bring effect, positively evaluates Ukrainian reforms, despite their ambiguity. He confessed that he was disappointed in attempts to establish a dialogue with Russia, and he believed that it was impossible to agree with the current authorities.

During talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow at the end of 2017, Johnson touched upon the issue of Russia’s hacker attacks. Johnson's position against Russia has tightened after a chemical attack in the British city of Salisbury and the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergey Skripal in March 2018. The British prime minister believes that improving relations with Russia is possible when it changes its behavior.

The UK's exit from the EU creates some positive prospects for Ukraine. Johnson believes that after leaving the EU, more freedom of action will emerge in the UK, and an additional package of sanctions against Russia will be possible to close the channels of money laundering in British financial institutions.

Possible intensification of trade and economic cooperation between Ukraine and the UK after the abolition of high EU duties for the third countries. Now the UK is in the 10th place among the trade and economic partners of Ukraine in Europe.

In 2018 bilateral trade turnover increased by 7.5% and amounted to $ 2.5 billion. The UK buys metal, wheat, corn, sunflower oil in Ukraine. Ukraine buys British cars, medicines, various industrial equipment.

In 2016, the question was raised about attracting British investments in enterprises of the defense industry of Ukraine. The possibility of establishing a free trade zone between Ukraine and the UK is being worked out.

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