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Boris tells Parliament he will work 'flat out' for 'new golden age' of UK

While Brexit was at the heart of Johnson's first Parliament address, he took questions from MPs on a range of subjects and pledged extra police on the streets

Press Trust of India  |  London 

File photo of Boris Johnson. Photo: AP/PTI
File photo of Boris Johnson. Photo: AP/PTI

promised British lawmakers that he will work "flat out" to meet the October 31 Brexit deadline and called on Brussels to rethink its opposition to renegotiate a more acceptable deal in his first speech as Prime Minister in the House of Commons on Thursday.

Johnson, who took over from Theresa May after a leadership election fought on the basis of getting Brexit done with or without a deal, reaffirmed his stance on striking a better deal with the European Union (EU) within 98 days' time.

"Our mission is to deliver Brexit on the 31st of October for the purpose of uniting and re-energising our great United Kingdom and making this country the greatest place on earth I will work flat out to make it happen," Johnson said, delivering a parliamentary statement in his characteristic exuberant style.

"There is every chance that in 2050, when I fully intend to be around, though not necessarily in this job, we will look back on this period, this extraordinary period, as the beginning of a new golden age for our United Kingdom," he said.

While Brexit was at the heart of Johnson's first Parliament address, he took questions from MPs on a range of subjects and pledged extra police on the streets, investment in education and healthcare. On the sticky issue of immigration, he confirmed that he will be launching a radical review of the visa system to introduce an Australian-style points-based system.

"No-one believes more strongly than me in the benefits of migration to our country. But I am clear that our immigration system must change. For years, politicians have promised the public an Australian-style points based systemI will ask the Migration Advisory Committee to conduct a review of that system as the first step in a radical rewriting of our immigration system, he said.

But the bulk of his first parliamentary address was focussed on Brexit, including a categorical stand against the controversial Irish backstop which has deeply divided all sides of the Commons.

"The Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by my predecessor has been three times rejected by this House. Its terms are unacceptable to this Parliament and to this countryIf an agreement is to be reached it must be clearly understood that the way to the deal goes by way of the abolition of the backstop," he said, addressing the most controversial aspect of May's Brexit agreement which led to its repeated defeat in Parliament and ultimately ended her premiership.

In a clear message to Brussels to return to the negotiating table, the new Prime Minister said his team was ready to negotiate an alternative in good faith, with provisions to ensure that the Irish border issues are dealt with in the negotiations on the future agreement between the UK and the EU.

"For our part, we will throw ourselves into these negotiations with the greatest energy and determination and in the spirit of friendship. And I hope that the EU will be equally ready and that they will rethink their current refusal to make any changes to the Withdrawal Agreement," he said, renewing his warning of being ready to leave the 28-member economic bloc without a deal in place.

"If they do not, we will of course have to leave the EU without an agreement under Article 50. The UK is better prepared for that situation than many believe. But we are not as ready yet as we should be. In the 98 days that remain to us we must turbo-charge our preparations to make sure that there is as little disruption as possible to our national life, he said.

Reiterating something he had already laid out in his first speech on the steps of Downing Street on Wednesday, Johnson hinted at holding back the 39-million pounds so-called divorce bill agreed by May as part of the Withdrawal Agreement in the eventuality of a no-deal Brexit. As part of his agenda to reflect his seriousness over leaving the EU with or without a deal, the new prime minister has appointed a former foe-turned-friend Michael Gove as the minister in charge of planning for a no-deal Brexit.

Gove, who is effectively the head of the UK Cabinet Office with the official title of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, had campaigned for Brexit in the June 2016 alongside Johnson but the duo had fallen out after he decided to stand for the post of Prime Minister in the wake of David Cameron's resignation. But the old friends are now back together to oversee the Britain's exit from the EU.

The UK Parliament is set for its summer recess from Friday until early September. Johnson and his new Cabinet, meanwhile, are expected to be working through what is usually a holiday period in the UK, often referred to as "silly season" for the lack of political activity.

However, Johnson does not seem to be planning any holiday and spent most of Wednesday finalising his top team, which involved a brutal cull of 17 ministers from the previous May Cabinet who were not seen as loyalists or fully committed to his do or die Brexit mission.

His Cabinet team, dubbed the most diverse in history, includes three Indian-origin ministers Priti Patel (Home Secretary), Alok Sharma (Development Secretary) and Rishi Sunak (Chief Secretary to the Treasury) alongside former prime ministerial hopeful Sajid Javid as Chancellor and staunch Brexiteer Dominic Raab as foreign secretary.

First Published: Thu, July 25 2019. 18:26 IST
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