LONDON – Boris Johnson has won the race to be leader of the U.K.’s Conservative Party and will be the country’s prime minister as London seeks to finally reach a divorce deal with Brussels.
Johnson, a populist former mayor of London and the face of the 2016 Brexit referendum, won the votes of 92,153 members of the party, almost twice the 46,656 won by his rival, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
He is set to take over for Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday and will be tasked with following through on his “do or die” pledge to deliver Brexit in just over three months.
Johnson led the 2016 Brexit campaign and — after May delayed Brexit twice — insists the latest deadline must be kept, with or without a divorce agreement with the EU.
“We are going to get Brexit done on Oct. 31, and we are going to take advantage of all the opportunities it will bring in a new spirit of ‘can do'” Johnson, 55, said after the result was announced.
“Like some slumbering giant, we are going to rise and ping off the guy-ropes of self-doubt and negativity.”
European Union chiefs said Tuesday they want to work with Johnson to ratify the Brexit withdrawal deal signed by his predecessor.
“We look forward to working constructively with PM Boris Johnson when he takes office, to facilitate the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement and achieve an orderly Brexit,” EU negotiator Michel Barnier tweeted after Johnson was confirmed as leader.
“We are ready also to rework the agreed declaration on a new partnership in line with EUCO guidelines,” Barnier said, referring to the nonbinding political plan for future EU-U.K. ties that May also signed in November.
Separately, a spokeswoman for the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, passed on his wishes.
“Mr. Juncker … wants me to convey my congratulations to Mr. Boris Johnson on his appointment as leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party and as the next prime minister of the United Kingdom,” she said.
“The president wants to work with the prime minister in the best way possible and beyond this, I’m going to reserve my comments as the news has just freshly broken.”
U.S. President Donald Trump also congratulated Johnson on his victory in the race.
“Congratulations to Boris Johnson on becoming the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. He will be great!” Trump tweeted.
Trump has declared himself to be a big fan of Johnson.
Last week he predicted Johnson would fix what Trump called the “disaster” that May had triggered in trying to lead Britain out of the European Union.
“He’s a different kind of a guy, but they say I’m a different kind of a guy, too. We get along well. I think we’ll have a very good relationship,” Trump told reporters.
British business leaders on Tuesday urged Johnson to avoid taking the country out of the European Union without a Brexit deal.
“The new prime minister must not underestimate the benefits of a good deal,” said Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, Britain’s biggest employers’ organization which represents some 190,000 businesses.
“Companies need to know, in concrete terms, what your government will do to avoid a messy, disorderly Brexit on Oct. 31, which would bring pain to communities across the U.K. and disruption to our trade around the world.”
“It will unlock new investment and confidence in factories and boardrooms across the country. Business will back you across Europe to help get there.”
The British Chambers of Commerce, which also represents thousands of firms, urged Johnson to spell out how he would avoid a chaotic no-deal Brexit.
“The message to Boris Johnson from business communities around the U.K. couldn’t be simpler: The time for campaigning is over — and we need you to get down to business,” said Adam Marshall, BCC director-general.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5