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Boris Johnson To Lead Britain As Its Next Prime Minister


The United Kingdom has a new prime minister. The ruling Conservative Party made the announcement in London this morning.


PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY: Therefore, I give notice that Boris Johnson is elected as the leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party.


MARTIN: That was the moment it happened. NPR's Joanna Kakissis is in London watching it all unfold. Good morning, Joanna.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So the big announcement came. Boris Johnson then addressed the country. What did he say?

KAKISSIS: So he talked about unifying the Conservative Party. He said it's a party that has always known what's best for the country and has delivered it over the past 200 years. And he believes Brexit is what's best for the U.K. right now, even though Britain is deeply divided over it and there are dire economic warnings about exiting the European Union without a deal. So he said this morning in his speech, he said he read a speech - I'm sorry - he said he read a piece in a British newspaper this morning describing the daunting circumstances facing the new prime minister. And this was his response.


BORIS JOHNSON: Well, I look at you this morning. And I ask myself, do you look daunted? Do you feel daunted? I don't think - I don't think you look remotely daunted to me. And I think that we know that we can do it and that the people of this country are trusting in us to do it. And we know that we will do it.

KAKISSIS: So he sounds like a man who is very prepared to do this with what he's said repeatedly is a can-do attitude.

MARTIN: But does he have a mandate? I mean, we should remember he was selected by a ballot vote within his own Conservative Party. But only 160,000 people in the party voted. So is he capable of unifying the country?

KAKISSIS: So that's the big question right now. And there are concerns that he does not - that he's not capable of doing that. He's a divisive figure here in Britain. A lot of people find his style very off-putting. They find him unprepared. They find that he makes decisions based on his gut and not on the details. And this is - you know, this is an issue - Brexit is an issue that needs details. It needs somebody who is interested in process and who's not interested in just the showboating aspect of politics, which Boris Johnson's detractors say he's more fond of. So yeah, that's a big question mark right now.

MARTIN: So Brexit - I mean, let's just talk about this for a minute. This is the issue right now. This is the problem that defeated Theresa May. It will now undoubtedly vex, to some degree, her successor Boris Johnson. He claims he's the one to make it happen. How much of his hard-line approach to Brexit had to do with his selection as the new prime minister?

KAKISSIS: Well, you know, Conservative Party members who voted for Brexit were really tired of this process taking so long. It was just long, drawn-out - you know, bewildering. And you know, they just want it to end. They want a timetable. They want a specific timetable. They want to know when it's going to happen, how it's going to happen.

And Boris Johnson has said - has promised that he's going to do it by October 30. We're going to - he has said, we are going to exit the European Union by - that the U.K. is going to exit the European Union by October 31, do or die. And that was very appealing to Conservative Party members who are just tired of sort of this never-ending Brexit story.

MARTIN: So those who don't like Boris Johnson in the U.K. and also don't like President Trump liken Johnson to the American president. They are both political showmen; they're both populists. But there are differences, as well, between the two leaders. Are there not?

KAKISSIS: Yes. You know, Boris Johnson - and we saw this today in the speech - he's known for making very funny, highly literate, very smart speeches. He's very politically savvy. He's very well-read. He went to Britain's top boarding school, Eton. He went to Oxford University. He...

MARTIN: He is an elite.

KAKISSIS: He is absolutely one of Britain's elite.

And he cultivates this everyman image of being chronically underprepared and even bumbling. And that's what appeals to the British. He's kind of the closest thing to a celebrity politician here. But at heart, he is a very well-educated, very privileged and very smart guy.

MARTIN: And controversial, although a long experience in politics - the mayor of London and served as the foreign secretary under Prime Minister Theresa May.

Joanna Kakissis watching all of this in London. We appreciate it, Joanna. Thank you.

KAKISSIS: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joanna Kakissis is a foreign correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she reports poignant stories of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.