Ukraine regrets exit of staunch supporter while Moscow mocks fate of British premier
Andy Bounds and Sam Fleming in Brussels YESTERDAY
Boris Johnson’s departure from office will have less international impact — particularly on Britain’s relations with the EU — than his arrival as the prime minister who claimed he would “get Brexit done”, diplomats say.
In theory, his exit offers the chance for a reset in fractious bilateral relations between the UK and EU. But most in Brussels believe his successor will continue with plans to unilaterally amend the post-Brexit trade deal he signed.
“We are by no means jumping for joy,” said an EU official. “It doesn’t look as if another
candidate would change course drastically in their attitude.”
Several diplomats questioned whether any contender for the Conservative leadership would
dare to discontinue a policy popular with the MPs whose support they must win. “Even
though Johnson is gone, it’s the same party with the same backbenchers,” said one
Most European capitals, especially Paris, had lost trust in Johnson despite his claim for
credit in his resignation speech for “settling our relations with the continent”.
He agreed an exit deal with the EU that sowed the seeds of discord. Johnson wanted the UK
to be free to diverge from EU rules and sign trade deals with other countries. That meant
keeping Northern Ireland in the EU single market for goods while Great Britain left. Doing
so avoided a trade border on the island of Ireland but required one in the Irish Sea, which
angered Northern Ireland unionists.
government proposed legislation that would override much of thatarrangement.
The betrayal poisoned the atmosphere with Brussels. “We signed with the same people. Wenegotiated with these people and they signed the agreement. Now they are trying to undowhat [they] said was a good deal,” said one official involved in the original Brexit deal.
Pascal Lamy, a former French commissioner, told the FT: “What we can expect is a changeof style — a more boring style of politics and no more fireworks. There is no one else likehim in British politics. That would allow us to focus on the boring and highly technical taskof agreeing how to administer the Northern Ireland border. A return to calm is aprerequisite to a more normal relationship.”
Micheál Martin, prime minister of Ireland, said: “We have now an opportunity to return tothe true spirit of partnership and mutual respect.”
A thaw in Anglo-French relations also seemed illusory. On Wednesday, British officialswere talking about plans for a formal bilateral summit between Johnson and Frenchpresident Emmanuel Macron — the first since a meeting between Macron and Theresa Mayin January 2018.
But the French have been noticeably less enthusiastic about the so-called “bromance” thatDowning Street said had developed between the two leaders at the recent G7 summit inGermany. “It’s not possible to go on like this,” said one French official this week.
On the other big international issue of recent months — war in Ukraine — Johnson’sannounced departure was lamented in Kyiv.
Ukraine saw Johnson as a staunch supporter pofits resistance to Russia’s invasion and expects him to be replaced by someone equally keento send arms.
“We have no doubt that Great Britain’s support will be preserved, but your personalleadership and charisma made it special,” Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.
In Moscow, though, Johnson’s exit was predictably mocked. “Boris Johnson was hit by aboomerang launched by himself,” said Maria Zakharova, Russia’s foreign ministryspokesperson. “His comrades-in-arms turned him in.”
The UK’s stance on Northern Ireland and Johnson’s ties to ex-US president Donald Trumphave also damaged relations with Washington under Joe Biden. The state department andmany members of Congress have repeatedly urged Johnson to negotiate over the protocol.
“I look forward to continuing our close co-operation with the government of the UnitedKingdom,” Biden said in a White House statement that did not mention Johnson by name.