Looking at the United Kingdom from this side of the Atlantic, it’s fair to say that who becomes prime minister isn’t always a crucial development. The “special relationship” is solid — so keep calm and carry on, as the British would say.
Tuesday brought something different. Not panic-inducing, but different: the ascension of Boris Johnson, a quirky, cerebral figure, to the post of prime minister. Johnson, won a Conservative Party election to succeed Theresa May. He takes office Wednesday.
Johnson will become a consequential figure in American eyes for three reasons: Iran, Brexit and the mercurial presidency of Donald Trump.
The United States views Iran as a menace with dreams of having nuclear weapons. The 2015 nuclear deal, struck between Iran, the United States and Europe looks weak. Trump pulled out and imposed harsher sanctions to compel a renegotiation that would address Tehran’s support of terrorism and pursuit of ballistic missiles. Europe, including the U.K., has stuck with the deal.
We’d like to see the pact renegotiated and believe sanctions are the appropriate tool of persuasion. Those sanctions are more likely to be effective if Europe signs on.
The new British prime minister has good reason to join Trump’s harder line: The belligerent Iranians have put the U.K. in their sights. On Friday, gunboats from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps seized a British-flagged oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz. Earlier, the British detained an Iranian tanker for violating European Union sanctions.
Iran’s shenanigans at sea should not lead to a military confrontation. The United States, Britain and other partners have the chance to cooperate to protect shipping in the strait and thus dissuade further Iranian aggression. That could — and should — be a first step by Britain to join Washington in using sanctions to drag Iran back to the negotiating table. U.S. sanctions are hurting. A tighter squeeze from Europe would help bring home the point.
Johnson makes for an intriguing would-be partner for Trump. Imagine Johnson as a British upper-class, egghead version of Trump and you wouldn’t be wrong. Johnson was schooled at Oxford and loves to flaunt his knowledge of Latin, but in any language he’s a showman and an economic nationalist, which is why he supports Brexit — the U.K.’s exit from the European Union. The departure’s been messy — shambolic, as the Brits also say — so it will be up to Johnson to avert a European economic crisis
Trump isn’t afraid to ruffle the feathers of friends as well as foes. If he and Johnson can develop a rapport, the U.S.-U.K. special relationship will get a boost.
— CHICAGO TRIBUNE