The European Union has had a bumpy ride with Britain’s outgoing prime minister, Boris Johnson.
The EU and Britain see eye to eye in supporting Ukraine militarily and politically against Russia’s invasion — with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanking Johnson as a “true friend” of the country.
Russian politicians are celebrating Johnson’s departure. But some experts, like senior analyst Amanda Paul of the Brussels-based European Policy Center research group, predict it will not weaken Britain’s hand — or European unity — when it comes to Kyiv.
“I think whoever goes into Downing Street will give the same strong support to Zelenskyy. The issue is important to the UK — first of all, because they understand the security threat emanates from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But secondly, because this part of the world — the Black Sea Region, the eastern flank — has always been a priority for the UK in terms of the security support they’ve given there … it’s also important for the UK’s global Britain policy,” Paul said.
When it comes to matters closer to home, EU relations with Johnson are tense. He was the leader who exited Britain from the bloc, following months of bitter talks.
French politician Michel Barnier, who led the EU’s Brexit negotiations, tweeted he expected Johnson’s departure would “open a new page” in relations between the two sides.
Irish leader Micheal Martin warned London against trying to unilaterally scrap a key Brexit trade agreement regarding Northern Ireland — something critics claim Johnson is pushing.
The EU’s executive arm won’t comment on Johnson’s departure. But when pushed about whether Brussels had ordered extra bottles of champagne to celebrate, one spokesman offered this reaction: “No … we’ve a very limited consumption of alcohol and beverages in the commission I think, and I can’t tell you anything about that.”
In France, where rivalry with Britain stretches back centuries, reactions are mixed. The country’s leading Le Monde newspaper predicted Johnson’s departure could help heal Brexit wounds. Another, Le Figaro, suggested the French presidency was probably breathing a sigh of relief.
But analyst Paul said Europeans shouldn’t be counting on London to radically change its EU policies under a new prime minister.
“I guess, as well, some of them will actually miss Boris, because the guy’s a character. Despite the fact there’s obviously some animosity — he’s the sort of guy you have a love-hate relationship with — I think the French and some others can’t really help but to like the guy,” Paul said.
Johnson has at least one champion in France. Far-right mayor Louis Aliot, of the southern city of Perpignan, praised the prime minister for delivering so-called independence to Britain with Brexit. Johnson may have made mistakes, Aliot told French TV, but his policies were right.