LONDON (AP) — Boris Johnson was due to enter 10 Downing St. as Britain’s new prime minister on Wednesday, vowing to lead the U.K. out of the European Union and unite a country deeply divided over Brexit.
It’s a tall order. Johnson has just 99 days to make good on his promise to deliver Brexit by Oct. 31.
He also must win over the many Britons opposed to Brexit and resistant to his blustering charms.
In a sign he hopes to move beyond the largely white, male and affluent Conservative members who chose him as their leader, Johnson’s office said his government would be a “Cabinet for modern Britain” with more women and a record number of ministers from ethnic minorities.
Many members of his administration will be strong Brexit supporters like Johnson, but he is also set to include some pro-EU politicians.
The former mayor of London and foreign secretary is getting Britain’s top job in politics after winning a contest to lead the governing Conservative Party.
Famed for his bravado, quips in Latin and blond mop of hair, Johnson easily defeated Conservative rival Jeremy Hunt, winning two-thirds of the votes of about 160,000 party members across the U.K.
He will replace Theresa May, who announced her resignation last month after Parliament repeatedly rejected the withdrawal agreement she struck with the 28-nation bloc.
Johnson will take office in a day of carefully choreographed political drama that began with May attending the weekly Prime Minister’s Question period in the House of Commons for the last time.
The usually boisterous session was subdued, with Conservative colleagues praising May’s sense of duty and opposition leaders offering best wishes, while aiming their fire at her replacement. May just shook her head when Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn asked if she would help him stop “the reckless plans of her successor,” who has vowed to leave the EU if necessary without a Brexit divorce deal.
May offered Johnson slightly muted praise, saying she was pleased to hand over to a Conservative committed to “delivering on the vote of the British people in 2016 and to delivering a bright future for this country.”
And she fired back at Corbyn: “As a party leader who has accepted when her time was up, perhaps the time is now for him to do the same?”
As she left the Commons chamber, May was given a standing ovation by Conservative lawmakers, many of whom helped bring her down by rejecting her Brexit deal.
After saying goodbye to Downing Street staff, May will travel the mile (1.6 kilometers) to Buckingham Palace to resign and ask Queen Elizabeth II to invite Johnson to form a new government.
The 93-year-old monarch will then meet Johnson — the 14th prime minister of her 67-year reign — before the new leader stands outside 10 Downing St. to address the nation, giving Britons a glimpse at his priorities and policy plans.
Then the real battle starts.
Johnson has vowed that Britain will leave the EU on the currently scheduled date of Oct. 31, with or without a deal on departure terms. Economists warn that a no-deal Brexit would disrupt trade and plunge the U.K. into recession, and the EU is adamant that the deal it made with May will not be renegotiated.
Chief EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said “we are ready to listen and to work with” Johnson, but did not budge on the bloc’s refusal to alter the deal.
“A no-deal Brexit will never be, never, the choice of the EU. But we are prepared,” he said in Brussels.
Johnson, whose personal brand is built on optimism — and, critics say, an ambiguous relationship with facts — promised Tuesday to deliver Brexit “in a new spirit of can do.”
“I say to all the doubters: ‘Dude, we are going to energize the country, we are going to get Brexit done,'” he said.
Follow AP’s full coverage of Brexit and the Conservative Party leadership race at: https://www.apnews.com/Brexit
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