Boris Johnson has become the new foreign minister
May has begun her first full day as British prime minister under immediate pressure to implement Brexit, after shocking observers by picking gaffe-prone Leave campaigner Boris Johnson as her foreign secretary
EU leaders were quick to congratulate Britain’s new premier, whose appointment brought some stability following three tumultuous weeks since the country voted to leave the European Union, but urged her to move quickly. The result sparked turmoil on the financial markets and the Bank of England was meeting later Thursday to discuss whether to cut interest rates to ward off the risk of recession.
May appointed former cabinet colleague Philip Hammond as finance minister, who said he would meet central bank governor Mark Carney later in the day. But she sprung a surprise by appointing Johnson—the former mayor of London who had appeared consigned to the political wilderness after backing out of the Conservative leadership contest- as her foreign minister. The bumbling Johnson is famous for using his sharp wit to savage others.
During the referendum campaign, he compared the EU’s ambitions for closer integration to Hitler’s ambitions to rule the continent. He also once described White House hopeful Hillary Clinton as a “sadistic nurse in a mental hospital”.
Europe’s media reacted with incredulity to the appointment, with Germany’s Die Welt describing him as “undiplomatic, unpredictable and disloyal”. French foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Johnson had “lied a lot” in the EU campaign but said he was not concerned about his unconventional manner, telling Europe 1 radio that is “his style”.
May also appointed two arch eurosceptics in senior roles, confirming her commitment to implement Brexit—even though she had personally campaigned to stay in the EU. David Davis has been put in charge of exit negotiations as new Brexit minister, while Liam Fox has responsibility for negotiating new trade agreements outside the bloc.
Nigel Farage, the former leader of UKIP, hailed the appointments as “inspired”, adding: “I feel more optimistic now.” EU leaders, still reeling from Britain’s decision to become the first country to leave the bloc in its 60-year history, pressed May for a quick divorce. May’s first calls after taking over late Wednesday were to Europe’s top two powerbrokers, German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Francois Hollande. “The prime minister emphasised her commitment to delivering the will of the British people to leave the European Union,” her spokesman said after the round of calls, which also included Irish premier Enda Kenny. She also “explained that we would need some time to prepare for these negotiations and spoke of her hope that these could be conducted in a constructive and positive spirit”.
The vote “has created a new situation which the United Kingdom and the European Union will have to address soon,” European commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said. After six years as home secretary under David Cameron, May signalled her intention to start with a clean slate by ruthlessly ejecting several of her former colleagues. George Osborne, the former finance minister, was consigned to the back benches, while justice secretary Michael Gove—a leading Brexit supporter—was sacked.
However, she kept Michael Fallon on as defence minister, while former energy minister Amber Rudd was promoted to May’s old interior minister job.
Speaking on the steps of her new Downing Street residence late Wednesday, May said Britain faced a time of “great national change” but said it would “rise to the challenge”.