Johnson will need all of his abilities at this critical time for the UK

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial
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Boris Johnson was elected Conservative Party leader yesterday and today becomes prime minister.

His win is no surprise, save for the fact that the favourite in Tory leadership contests typically does not triumph.

In the event, Jeremy Hunt polled respectably — one third of Tory members backed him — but Boris Johnson won easily, as had been expected.

Mr Johnson deserves the warmest congratulations on his appointment to the highest political office in the land, a position that the News Letter has been reporting on since 1737, when our earliest editions covered the premiership of Robert Walpole, the first ever prime minister.

Mr Johnson is a man of great talents — the talent to entertain people, to write brilliantly and to observe events acutely — and was a politician of success when mayor of London.

He will need all of those abilities, given that the United Kingdom is facing the greatest challenge it has faced since the Second World War in exiting the European Union.

Winston Churchill took over as PM in the early months of 1940. He was an unpopular figure within the Tory party, but he had been vindicated in his contempt for Hitler.

Mr Johnson will be hoping that there is a parallel, not in terms of scale — clearly World War II was a far more serious affair than Brexit — but in terms of vindicated judgement.

He backed the UK’s departure from the EU and in the coming months we will find out if that exit happens and, if it does, in the coming years we will find out if it is a success. The UK has the world’s fifth biggest economy and a remarkable history. If any nation can prosper outside the EU, Britain can.

Mr Johnson has pledged to tear up the Withdrawal Agreement yet did previously vote for it, with its backstop, which introduces an internal UK barrier. Naturally therefore unionists are concerned he will do the same again.

No doubt the DUP will seek early assurances on that point as a condition for their continued support for the Tories.