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Boris Johnson wins race to be UK prime minister

Christina Boyle and Laura King, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LONDON -- Boris Johnson, a British politician best known for his eccentric and unpredictable ways, overwhelmingly won a party leadership contest on Tuesday that also anoints him as the country's next prime minister.

Johnson, who is expected to assume the post Wednesday, will immediately face an array of crises. A hard-line Brexiter, he insists Britain will depart the European Union as scheduled on Oct. 31, despite bitter national divisions over how or even whether to do so. He also confronts high tensions with Iran over oil shipping in the Persian Gulf and a brewing rebellion within the ranks of his own party.

President Donald Trump, who has been a booster of both Brexit and Johnson, swiftly tweeted his congratulations, without waiting for Johnson to formally take office. "Congratulations to Boris Johnson on becoming the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom," the president wrote. "He will be great!"

Because of the quirks of the British political system, only dues-paying members of the governing Conservative Party -- just 160,000 people -- were eligible to vote in the leadership contest. That means that the new prime minister was in effect picked by less than 1% of the electorate, chosen by a group that is older, wealthier and more likely to be white than the average voter.

Johnson's acceptance speech was delivered in his trademark exuberant style, including some language that might be considered unconventional, coming from a product of Britain's most elite educational institutions.

"Dude, we are going to energize the country!" he declared. "We are going to get Brexit done!"

The prime-minister-in-waiting has leaned heavily on the notion that sheer national determination can make a success of Brexit, despite unabated polarization and rancor that erupted after the June 2016 Brexit referendum.

His detractors say Johnson has a misplaced faith that his own charisma will lead the Europeans to allow Britain to shake off EU rules while maintaining many of the essential privileges of membership in the bloc.

"We are once again going to believe in ourselves," Johnson told the party faithful who assembled to hear the vote results announced.

Johnson, 55, had been heavily favored to triumph over rival Jeremy Hunt, the foreign minister, and the lopsided tally announced Tuesday was in line with those expectations: 92,153 votes for Johnson and 46,656 for Hunt. Turnout was 87.4%.

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