Three years ago, the British voted for the EU exit. Now, the former Brexit spokesman Boris Johnson wants to complete his work as Prime Minister. But how should that succeed?
Photo series with 24 pictures
Almost exactly three years after the brief vote by the British to leave the EU, Boris Johnson is close to his goal. The former spokesman for the Brexit campaign "Vote Leave" is one of two candidates for the post of prime minister on Saturday at a conference center in Birmingham. The 55-year-old barks into the microphone: "The first thing we have to do, you know what that is, we have to Brexit wuppen". Great applause. Johnson says it's a trifle, if you just want it.
On 23 June 2016, the British had voted for Brexit with approximately 52 to 48 percent. But three years later, the country is still part of the international community. Prime Minister Theresa May failed in three attempts to bring her exit agreement negotiated with Brussels through parliament. The withdrawal period has been extended until 31st October. May announced her retirement.
Johnson has an overwhelming lead in the group
Johnson is the favorite in the race for her successor. He was overwhelmingly ahead of his group in the final round of the competition. Now he is to present himself throughout the country to the conservative party base. It is estimated that around 160,000 Tory members will decide who will become the new party leader and prime minister by the end of July. Several hundred have come to Birmingham for the first of 16 introductory rounds. Johnson's opponent, Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt, is considered to have almost no chance.
Johnson wants to achieve what May was denied: He wants to force the EU to concessions. The already agreed final bill of the equivalent of about 45 billion euros, he wants to pay only under conditions. Most importantly, he wants to move the delicate issue of border controls between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland to what he believes is "in the negotiation of a free trade agreement during the transition period, after we resigned on 31 October." cries Johnson, swinging his fist as if he were carrying a blow with an invisible saber.
Boris Johnson at a regional conference: To the questions about the dispute with his girlfriend, the politician is silent. (Source: Andrew Parsons / imago images)
If Brussels does not respond to his demands, he threatens a Brexit without an agreement. Then overnight, all agreements between Britain and the EU would be invalidated. Experts expect chaotic conditions and serious consequences for the economy. But Johnson agrees: The country just needs to be prepared. Then it would be an excellent means of pressure against the EU. So far that was missing. But with "the right energy and the right use" it will work.
He does not care about unrealistic promises
Is it clear to Johnson how unrealistic his full-bodied promises are? The EU has repeatedly ruled out renegotiation of the Brexit deal. In May, Brussels had already lost its teeth in an attempt to postpone the Irish question into the post-exit era. The threat of a Brexit without agreement also seems hollow: Britain would suffer much more from this than the EU. Is Johnson possibly just promising everything to be elected? Does he have a real plan in his pocket?
Hardcore Johnson supporters do not seem to upset these questions. They especially appreciate the entertainer Johnson. Whenever "Boris", as he is often called, coughs out an extravagant word or goes through a tirade on Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn, a happy chuckle goes through the hall. When he has to ask some critical questions, they boo and demand that he be left alone. Some who applauded him particularly frenetically applause have disappeared when his opponent Jeremy Hunt comes on stage.
"He pretends it's a joke"
But there are also some who did not like Johnson's performance. Especially his insistent silence on repeated inquiries about a nightly police operation at the London apartment, which he shares with his partner, seems to upset many. A neighbor had called the police on the night of Friday for a loud argument in the Johnson apartment.
A recent survey for the "Mail on Sunday" shows that its popularity is dwindling: If Johnson until Thursday was a big favorite for the Tory presidency, Jeremy Hunt now passed with 32 percent of the former Foreign Minister, who received only 29 percent , Among conservative voters, Johnson's popularity dropped from 55% to 45%, while Hunt's approval rating rose from 28% to 34%.
"I thought Boris Johnson was so disappointing, it was incredible," says 74-year-old Keith Jones after the event. "He babbles, he does not answer the question, he pretends it's a joke," he complains. "How could he negotiate with the Germans and French, they would not take him seriously, would they?" He came as a Johnson enthusiast and goes home as a hunt enthusiast, he says. Similarly, others express themselves.
Hunt presents himself as a man of reason. The EU will at least listen to him when he presents new plans that would have a chance to come through Parliament, he prophesies. He wants to avoid an EU exit without an agreement as far as possible, but does not rule it out. Whether he can convince the majority of the conservative party members with this message, remains questionable.