BRUSSELS (AP) — From his days stoking anti-European Union sentiment with exaggerated newspaper articles, to his populist campaign leading Britain out of the bloc and reneging on the post-Brexit trade deal he signed, the Outgoing British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been the scourge of Brussels for so many years.
Such was its impact on the severed ties between Britain and the EU that after Johnson was forced to announce on Thursday that he would step down, the news caused little public jubilation in European circles. Instead, there was just the numb acceptance of the inevitable and the resignation that things will never be the same again.
“I won’t miss him,” said French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, underscoring an open contempt not seen since Europeans hailed Donald Trump’s defeat in the US election in 2020. And as transatlantic relations soured rapidly recovering since the arrival of President Joe Biden, don’t expect anything similar with a new British leader, politicians and experts have said.
“Even with a new Prime Minister, I think there will probably be little change in the position of the British government” on the main Brexit issues causing the current divisions, said David McAllister, the main lawmaker in the UK. EU dealing with the UK.
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Guy Verhofstadt, who was the top MEP throughout the Brexit divorce proceedings, said Johnson’s impact was such that there was little or no chance another Tory prime minister could go down a fundamentally different.
“No one is under any illusion that Johnson’s departure from Downing Street solves one of the underlying problems in UK-EU relations,” Verhofstadt wrote in an opinion piece. for The Guardian. “The damage caused by the outgoing Prime Minister, through the project he instrumentalized to gain power, continues.”
The UK has always been a lukewarm member of the EU since joining the bloc in 1973. When Johnson joined the Brussels press some 30 years ago, he often captivated his domestic readership with stories that featured two fundamental elements: lights, and they had little relation to reality.
As a Conservative politician, he weighed in in the 2016 referendum on UK membership of the EU behind arguments to leave the bloc. Johnson used his flippant manner and joking style to sell the benefits of EU withdrawal, sometimes ignoring the facts. He played a key role in winning the Brexit campaign in the 2016 Brexit referendum vote.
Yet the contempt never ran deeper than earlier this year when he began unilaterally rewriting parts of the post-Brexit deal he signed with the 27-nation bloc. The deal set up a special system in Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK, so that trade with the Republic of Ireland – an EU member – could continue without establishing a physical border .
“I was there face to face with him. Line for line, comma for comma, and he doesn’t want to respect it,” the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, recalled on Friday, still baffled by Johnson’s tactics.
“The reputational damage has been enormous for a country and a society that has long prided itself on its deep culture of ‘my word is my bond’ without even a written contract, let alone an international treaty,” said Michael Emerson of the Center for European Political Studies.
The bill to unilaterally sever the Northern Ireland trade deal is still in the House of Commons, and there remains lingering hope that London could pull itself back from the abyss.
“They have this law in Parliament, so they are taking steps in that direction. But they haven’t crossed the line,” said Jan Lipavský, foreign minister of Czechia, which holds the EU presidency and is more widely known in English as the Czech Republic.
Still, a cursory glance at the likely successor candidates does not inspire hope for fundamental change, as it includes several Tories who have spent years immersing themselves in Johnson’s divisive Brexit strategies.
“If you look at possible successors, there is no one who will fundamentally break the Brexit line,” said Rem Korteweg of the Clingendael Institute in The Hague, Netherlands. “The Conservative Party has a dominant Brexit core that you will need to convince to become Prime Minister.”
Although the early years of Brexit produced more than the bounty promised by Johnson, any possible quest to bring the UK back into the EU is also out of the question, with the main opposition Labor party now focused on pulling the plug. Brexit best party. location instead.
Not that the EU even wants to welcome the country with open arms.
With Ukraine’s economic problems spurred by inflation and migration issues, “their plate is full,” Korteweg said. “They’re really not waiting for talks with the British, who will be looking for exceptions and exemptions anyway,” he said.
Barnier, who led the EU in Brexit talks for years, doesn’t see it happening either.
“It’s not a problem at hand,” Barnier told Sud Radio. “Quite frankly, what we need is a mindset where the UK government sticks to the treaties they negotiated.”
Samuel Petrequin reported from Prague. Jill Lawless in London and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.