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UK's new prime minister tells Cabinet EU exit is priority

By Earle Gale in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-07-25 21:58

Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds his first Cabinet meeting on Thursday. [Photo/Agencies]

The United Kingdom's new prime minister gathered his top team around him for the first time on Thursday for a Cabinet meeting that will have sent a clear message to the European Union that Britain is deadly serious about leaving the bloc on or before the scheduled Oct 31 deadline.

After the meeting, Boris Johnson headed across the road, from 10 Downing Street to the Houses of Parliament, where he addressed MPs and set out his vision for the future, receiving expected criticism from the opposition and some members of his own party, and warm support from others.

On both occasions, he reiterated his commitment to the Oct 31 deadline, which, he told his ministers during their early-morning Cabinet meeting, left his government with "a momentous task ahead".

Johnson's Cabinet is radically different from the one that supported former prime minister Theresa May, which comprised ministers with a relatively wide range of Brexit viewpoints. Seventeen members of May's team, more than half, including Johnson's recent leadership rival, Jeremy Hunt, either resigned or were sacked within a few hours of him taking over as prime minister on Wednesday afternoon.

Leading Brexiteers now have all the key roles at Parliament's highest level, including Sajid Javid, who is the new chancellor of the exchequer, Dominic Raab, who is now foreign secretary, and Priti Patel, who takes over as home secretary. Other key appointments include Liz Truss, who becomes international trade secretary, and Jacob Rees Mogg, who Johnson declared leader of the House.

Johnson told members of his Cabinet, which he said respects the "depth and breadth of talent in our extraordinary party" that they are at a "pivotal moment in our country's history".

"We are now committed, all of us, to leaving the European Union on Oct 31, or indeed earlier; no ifs, no buts, but we are not going to wait until Oct 31 to get on with a fantastic new agenda for our country, and that means delivering the priorities of the people."

In his speech before Parliament, Johnson said he has also asked the independent expert body called the Migration Advisory Committee to find a new plan for the nation's immigration system, effectively scrapping planned changes to the UK's visa rules. He also said officials working in Brussels will be "unshackled" so they can work on potential trade deals with non-EU nations.

China's Premier Li Keqiang had earlier urged deeper political mutual trust and expanded pragmatic cooperation between China and Britain as he congratulated Johnson.

In a letter published on Thursday, Li said ties between China and Britain have maintained a good momentum, with close bilateral high-level exchanges and fruitful cooperation in various areas.

He also expressed his appreciation of Johnson who, during his tenure as London mayor and foreign secretary, endeavored to improve bilateral ties.

China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Thursday that China also looks forward to increased cooperation on the Belt and Road Initiative, multilateralism, and free trade.

But Brexit is likely to be Johnson's main challenge and has been a huge issue ever since UK voters chose by a narrow margin to leave the EU during a referendum in 2016. Ever since, MPs have been divided on how that exit should be managed and Parliament has thrice rejected a proposed divorce deal negotiated by May, prompting Johnson and others to force her to resign and triggering his promise to act decisively.

Sky News claimed Johnson's "ruthless cull" of May's supporters has provoked anger among many Conservative Party MPs.

Labour's shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, told ITN his party will carefully consider any new deal the new PM may negotiate with the EU.

"But, at the moment, I can't see him stitching up a deal that's acceptable either to Labour or to quite a bit of his own side as well," he said.

The new Cabinet was described in The Times by former Conservative Party MP Nick Boles, who now sits as an independent, as a coup by the party's right wing.

"The hard-right has taken over the Conservative Party," he said. "Thatcherites, libertarians and no-deal Brexiteers control it, top to bottom."


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