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Boris Johnson’s weakness brings international complications

LONDON – With British Prime Minister Boris Johnson survived a vote of no confidence This week at least one other world leader shared his relief.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said it was “great news” that “we haven’t lost a very important ally”.

It was a welcome boost for a British leader who is dividing his country and his party but has received widespread praise for it an ally of Ukraine.

Johnson’s relatively narrow victory in Monday’s Conservative Party vote – leaving him in power but at risk of further rebellion – has ramifications beyond Britain’s shores.

“It’s quite difficult to confront the international challenges that we face while fighting your own political party,” said David Lawrence, senior research fellow at Chatham House international affairs think tank.

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Johnson has many opponents in London and at EU headquarters in Brussels, but he has had a warmer reception in Kyiv. His unwavering support for Ukraine’s fight against Russian invasion, backed by about £3 billion ($3.8 billion) in British military and humanitarian aid, has garnered him many fans. A bakery in the Ukrainian capital has even created a sweet treat called “Boris Johnson”: a puff pastry cake with meringue and ice cream that vaguely resembles the British leader’s blonde mop.

Lawrence says Johnson’s relationship with Zelenskyi – “both pretty big figures” – has been beneficial to both leaders. But experts say Johnson’s weakness is unlikely to have a serious impact on Britain’s support for Ukraine.

Military aid to Kyiv and tough sanctions against Moscow are strongly backed by both Britain’s ruling Conservatives and the left-wing opposition Labor Party.

“I think any British government would have done the same,” Lawrence said.

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Johnson’s woes have more immediate implications for Britain’s relations with the EU. He won the 2019 election on a promise to “get Brexit done” and has since feuded with the bloc over trade rules for Northern Ireland, the only part of the UK that shares a border with an EU member.

A dispute over customs controls on goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK has sparked a political crisis in Belfast, destabilizing the delicate balance between Irish nationalist and British Unionist communities that keeps peace in Northern Ireland.

Great Britain and the EU accuse each other of being uncompromising. Now Johnson says he will act unilaterally – and, critics say, illegally – by passing legislation to tear up part of the binding treaty he signed with the bloc.

The no-confidence vote has delayed this bill, which was expected this week. Experts say the vote has limited Johnson’s room for maneuver because he can’t afford to anger either Brexit-hardliners or more pro-EU lawmakers in his party. It has also made the EU less willing to compromise and increased the chances of a trade war between the UK and the bloc.

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“The European Union increasingly thinks that Boris Johnson is too weak to be worth making concessions,” said Anand Menon, UK director at a Changing Europe think tank. “(There is) a feeling on the EU side, ‘Why the hell should we make concessions now because this guy might not be in charge much longer?'”

Brexit is at the heart of Johnson’s foreign policy. He has long argued that leaving the EU gives the UK a chance to become a “global Britain” and forge new trade deals and alliances around the world.

He has given British foreign policy an “Indo-Pacific slant” aimed at strengthening economic, diplomatic and military ties with countries like India and Japan to counter China’s growing assertiveness. At the same time, however, his government has cut foreign aid and proposed downsizing the diplomatic service – moves Lawrence says are “completely at odds with ‘Global Britain'”.

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The no-confidence vote against Johnson was spurred by lockdown-violating parties at government buildings during the COVID-19 pandemic, attended by Johnson’s staff and, in some cases, the PM himself. The revelation that government officials were celebrating while millions of Britons were prevented from meeting friends or even visiting dying family members caused anger in the country. It also highlighted some conservatives’ concerns about a leader who often behaves as if the rules don’t apply to him.

Under party rules, Johnson cannot face another challenge for a year. But 41% of Conservative lawmakers voted to remove it, and few believe he is secure in his job.

If Johnson is ousted or leaves, the party will elect a new leader, who will also become prime minister. Several potential contenders have a strong track record in foreign policy and could change the focus of UK foreign policy. Current Secretary of State Liz Truss advocates a “network of liberty” involving capitalist democracies. Ex-Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt has spoken of a “values-based” foreign policy. Lawmaker Tom Tugendhat heads the House of Commons’ influential Foreign Affairs Committee and has been harsh on China.

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Mujtaba Rahman, managing director for Europe at policy consultancy Eurasia Group, says repairing Britain’s fractured relationship with Europe remains the greatest challenge, not least to help mend transatlantic ties strained by Brexit. President Joe Biden, who has strong ties to his Irish roots, has expressed concern that Britain’s approach to EU trade could undermine peace in Northern Ireland.

“A lot depends on the relationship with Europe,” Rahman said. “Of course, if you recalibrate the relationship with the EU, that will ease the relationship with the Biden administration.”

According to him, the obstacle to this is Boris Johnson.

“I think it’s a structural problem with this administration and Johnson,” he said. “I don’t see the conditions for improvement until he’s replaced.”

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https://www.local10.com/news/world/2022/06/10/boris-johnsons-weakness-brings-international-complications/ Boris Johnson’s weakness brings international complications

Sarah Y. Kim

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