Britain’s new Prime Minister Theresa May wanted Britain to stay in the European Union, but the government she has unveiled leaves little doubt that she intends to fulfill voters’ instructions and take the UK out of the 28-nation bloc.
May on Thursday finalised the details of the cabinet. Leading eurosceptics such as former London mayor Boris Johnson and David Davis secured top international jobs, as many members of predecessor David Cameron’s administration were swept away.
When she was running for the Conservative leadership, May promised that “Brexit means Brexit,” and her appointments of Johnson, Davis and Trade Secretary Liam Fox signal to EU leaders that, no matter what her own feelings on the matter may be, she will not be watering down Britain’s commitment to leaving the EU.
Johnson, Britain’s new foreign secretary, said on Thursday that it was an opportunity to be seized – “reshaping Britain’s global profile and identity as a great global player”.
On her first full day in office, May removed Cameron allies including former Chancellor George Osborne and Michael Gove, the justice secretary who himself had run for Conservative leader.
In her first speech as prime minister outside 10 Downing Street on Wednesday, May said: “We will make Britain a country that works not for a privileged few, but for every one of us.”
Some 52 percent of Britons who voted on June 23 wanted to leave the EU, responding to calls by leading Brexit – of British exit – campaigner Johnson. But his appointment as foreign secretary has caused some consternation around the world.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Johnson had lied to the British people during the EU referendum, and now had “his back against the wall to defend his country and to clarify his relationship with Europe.”
Johnson is famous for distinctly undiplomatic, and at times racist, gaffes.
In April, he suggested that US President Barack Obama had an “ancestral dislike” of Britain because he is part-Kenyan. Asked late on Wednesday whom he would apologise to first, Johnson said “the United States of America will be at the front of the queue.”
In 2002, in a regular column for The Telegraph – a newspaper which urged its readers to vote for a Brexit – Johnson called black people “picaninnies” and referred to the people of Congo as bloodthirsty “tribal warriors” with “watermelon smiles”.
Theresa May becomes UK’s new prime minister
On his first day in the job on Thursday, Johnson struck a sober tone. He shrugged off Ayrault’s criticism, saying the French minister had sent him a “charming letter … saying how much he looked forward to working together.”
He said Britain was quitting the EU but “that does not mean in any sense leaving Europe”.
“There is a massive difference between leaving the EU and our relations with Europe, which if anything I think are going to be intensified and built up at an intergovernmental level,” he said.
Some said Johnson might surprise his many critics. May has given him the chance to live up to his potential – or to fail spectacularly.
“It is not without risks,” said Christopher Meyer, a former British ambassador to the United States. “There may be some mishaps.
“But if Boris Johnson can realise his potential … he will send that shot of adrenaline through the Foreign Office, through our diplomacy, that is so necessary right now,” Meyer told Sky News.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Harry Mount, a journalist, author and friend of Johnson, said the new foreign secretary was misjudged by many.
“He’s extremely clever,” Mount said. “He speaks four languages, he was largely brought up in Brussels because his father was an MEP, he was born in New York because his father then worked at the World Bank. For someone who seems so quintessentially English, in fact, he’s very, very cosmopolitan.”
‘Britain open for business’
David Davis, 67, is the new Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.
One of the staunchest eurosceptics in British politics, he will lead a new department charged with the complex work of divorcing Britain from the bloc yet forging a new relationship with it.
Davis has previously said Britain should take a “brisk but measured” approach to exit talks with the EU, invoking Article 50 of the EU constitution – the formal trigger for two years of exit negotiations – by the start of 2017.
EU leaders are pressuring Britain to open formal exit talks sooner and warning that the UK cannot have access to the single European market of 500 million people without accepting the free movement of EU citizens, a sticking point for many pro-Brexit Britons.
The foreign policy spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party in Parliament said that many current British suggestions for future relations with the EU were “unworkable”.
“Free access to the common market means, among other things, accepting other fundamental freedoms such as the freedom of movement,” said Juergen Hardt.
European Parliament President Martin Schulz said the EU would “work constructively” with the new British government.
Newly appointed Treasury chief Philip Hammond, meanwhile, sought to reassure the markets.
Hammond acknowledged that the Brexit vote has had “a chilling effect” on investment, saying the main “challenge is to stabilise the economy, [and] send signals of confidence about the future”.
“Britain is open for business,” he said. “We are not turning our back on the world.”[Source: Al Jazeera and agencies]