Gaffe-prone Leave campaigner to serve in new cabinet as foreign minister
Theresa May began her first full day as British prime minister yesterday under immediate pressure to implement Brexit, after stunning observers by picking gaffe-prone Leave campaigner Boris Johnson as her top diplomat.
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 met late yesterday 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”.
Others noted that he would not be in charge of EU exit negotiations – and might still yet prove himself.
“Yes, he’s got some apologies to make, but as the UK’s salesman, he’ll do a stand-up job,” Simon Usherwood, a senior politics lecturer at the University of Surrey, said.
Johnson said he was humbled by his appointment.
“We have a massive opportunity in this country to make a great success of our new relationship with Europe and with the world,” he said.
May also appointed two arch euro sceptics 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 the anti-European UK Independence Party, hailed the appointments as inspired.
May’s first calls after taking over on Wednesday were to Europe’s top two power brokers, 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.