On the watch of now former-Prime Minister, Theresa May, the UK has largely been absent from international affairs, outside of its perpetual mud-wrestling with the European Union over the fate of Brexit. However, the new guy in Downing Street, Boris Johnson, has pledged to change that.
Although it’s not yet certain whether Mr Johnson is as well-versed in the methods of African dance as Miss May, his unwavering position on Brexit is widely known: that the UK will be leaving the EU by the deadline of October 31st, with or without a deal. It is that dogged determination and certainty that has, in part, accumulated him so much popularity among Brexit supporters.
Yet, beyond the realms of Brussels, what are Boris Johnson’s positions on today’s major international issues?
Prime Minister Johnson must commandeer the UK foreign policy ship at a time when London faces something of an international crisis in the Gulf. On Friday, July 19, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps captured a British-flagged oil tanker for “security reasons” after Britain recently impounded an Iranian tanker in Gibraltar for purportedly violating EU sanctions on Syria.
Reportedly, doubts exist in the UK foreign policy establishment as to whether Johnson and his team have the mettle to manage the crisis effectively. Some point to what was widely perceived as a major diplomatic gaffe made during his tenure as foreign secretary in which he said that a British-Iranian woman detained in Iran, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, had been teaching people journalism in the country, a statement that Miss Ratcliffe’s family have said was false and worsened her plight. While in 2017 Johnson did travel to Iran to lobby his Iranian counterpart for Miss Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release, he returned home empty-handed.
The new PM also said in a recent interview with Jewish News that he is ready and prepared to restart sanctions against Iran over its recent uranium enrichment breaches of the 2015 nuclear deal. Yet, he has also come out in favour of the deal, saying in 2018 that, “of all the options we have for ensuring that Iran never gets a nuclear weapon, this pact offers the fewest disadvantages.”
Somewhat echoing the Trump administration, during his time as Foreign Secretary, Johnson also criticised Iran for, in his words, its policy of perusing “proxy warfare” in the Middle East.
Friends of Israel are likely to cheer at the spectacle of Boris Johnson’s ascendance to Number 10.
During his time at Oxford University, the new Prime Minister spent a summer working on an Israeli Kibbutz, where, by his own admission, he spent a great deal of time “Washing dishes.”
Although he once reportedly described the 1917 Balfour Declaration as “bizarre” and “tragiocomically incoherent,” he has pursued a line of almost unwavering support for the state of Israel, saying that its establishment in 1948 was a “historic event, which led to a giant political fact.”
Along with his Muslim heritage, Johnson also has Jewish ancestry too - his maternal great-grandfather was a rabbi from Lithuania.
In terms of forging peace, Mr Johnson has, at least publicly, endorsed the two-state solution by writing that, “for Israel, the birth of a Palestinian state is the only way to secure its demographic future as a Jewish and democratic state. For Palestinians, a state of their own would allow them to realise their aspirations for self-determination and government.”
Back in April of this year, Boris branded Extinction Rebellion protestors as “smug, irritating and disruptive” and added that he is “utterly fed up” with suggestions that their opinions “are more important than my own.”
Speaking during the midst of climate change protests that brought the British capital to a standstill, Johnson said that, “I don’t want some double-barrelled activist telling me that air travel is only to be used in emergencies - when his own Instagram account contains pictures of his recent skiing holiday.”
In terms of policy, Mr Johnson has voted against measures to prevent climate change, including a carbon reduction target for the UK that was presented to parliament in 2016.
Yet, despite those seemingly hostile positions, Mr Johnson has also said that he is sympathetic to the climate change cause, but has told activists to go and “lecture” to China about it instead.
Prime Minister Johnson, a staunch Atlanticist who has consistently heaped praise upon President Trump, has pledged to repair US-UK relations following the recent publication of a leaked cable in which London’s now former ambassador to Washington, Kim Darroch, described Trump’s White House as “inept” and “dysfunctional.” Mr Darroch resigned soon after.
Congratulations to Boris Johnson on becoming the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. He will be great!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) 23 July 2019
Johnson has also already made it a hallmark of his tenure to strike up a tantalising post-Brexit trade deal with the US, despite the fact that reports suggest talks on such an agreement have hit a rough patch.
Although he has grand designs for the future of transatlantic relations, Mr Johnson’s opinions haven’t always been welcomed in Washington with open arms. Back in 2016, he suggested that then-President Barack Obama’s lukewarm attitude toward Britain was based on his “part-Kenyan” heritage and thus an “ancestral dislike of the British empire.” Needless to say, this comment didn’t earn him too many friends within and among the Obama administration.