Boris Johnson to take over as leader of a divided Britain

London — The next chapter of British politics opened with a bold pledge by an incoming prime minister: “Dude, we are going to energize the country, we are going to get Brexit done.” Boris Johnson has always had a knack for striking a chord, but as he prepared to meet Queen Elizabeth on Tuesday and officially take the reins of power, it was unclear how far his “new spirit of can-do” would carry the U.K. through its most tumultuous period in decades.

Johnson has a reputation for changing his tune to suit the political winds, but his consistent (at least recently) pledge to pull Britain out of the European Union on Oct. 31 as scheduled — with or without an agreement on the terms of that divorce — won him the support of his Conservative Party’s core and a stay in the prime minister’s official residence at 10 Downing Street. Few people expect him to be there for long.

The problem Johnson faces is the same one that forced his predecessor, Theresa May, to officially step down on Wednesday; Britain’s lawmakers cannot agree on how (or if) the U.K. should leave the EU.

The Conservative Party gave the pubic a say with the referendum in 2016 and the public voted to leave, but it was a non-binding vote. The leading Conservatives vowed to deliver and make Brexit a reality, and May’s government spent two years negotiating a deal to do so with the Europeans. But Parliament rejected that deal repeatedly, leaving her defeated, and departing.

Johnson has vowed to either negotiate a new divorce deal with Europe that is more favorable to the U.K., or carry on with a “no-deal” Brexit by the current Oct. 31 deadline for withdrawal. The EU has made it clear that negotiations will not be reopened, however, so it’s unclear how the new PM can offer the prospect of a new deal.

Boris Johnson chosen to be next UK prime minister

The no-deal option is so unpopular in Parliament that lawmakers are expected to block Johnson from letting it happen. It is widely expected that the opposition Labour Party will call a no-confidence vote on Johnson in Parliament, which could result in new national elections. That would force the Conservatives to defend their leadership role, and could feel a lot like a new vote on the concept of Brexit itself.

Here’s what happens today

Outgoing Prime Minister May began her last day on the job on the floor of Parliament, with her final rhetorical joust with opponents at the Wednesday ritual of Prime Minister’s Questions. She was lambasted anew by her foes, and lauded for noble efforts by many in her own party.  

She was then to head for the last time to 10 Downing Street as its official occupant. After saying farewells to staff and colleagues, she was to step out to the same podium from which she tearfully announced her decision to resign just two months ago.

May wasn’t expected to speak for long. She will then make the short trip to Buckingham Palace to formally inform Queen Elizabeth II of her resignation and recommend that the queen accept Johnson as her replacement.

Almost as soon as she leaves, Johnson will show up at the palace to meet the monarch. It’s largely a formality, but the queen will officially ask Johnson, as the head of the leading party in Parliament, to form a new government.

With that, he’s in charge and he will head to his new residence at 10 Downing Street. The new PM is expected to step up to the podium and address his country and the world.  

His remarks, and the cabinet appointments he’s expected to announce starting on Tuesday — whether they include former foes, or less-ardent Brexit backers — could provide the first indications of how, exactly, Johnson intends to unite and “energize the country” to achieve what his predecessor could not.

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