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Allies Surprised, Angry at British Foreign Secretary Choice

  • Henry Ridgwell

Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson addresses staff inside the Foreign Office in London, July 14, 2016.

Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson addresses staff inside the Foreign Office in London, July 14, 2016.

The Cabinet of Britain's new Prime Minister Theresa May will be tasked with negotiating the country's withdrawal from the European Union. But her appointment of Boris Johnson as foreign secretary, one of the key figures of the campaign to leave the EU, has prompted surprise and even some anger from allies around the world

His first trip is likely to be to Brussels next Monday for an EU meeting and that won't be easy, according to Ian Bond of analyst group the Center for European Reform.

"Given the number of countries and foreign leaders that he has insulted in recent months, I think that's going to be quite a difficult meeting,"

In May, Boris Johnson angered many European allies by claiming the EU was pursuing a similar aim to Adolf Hitler in trying to create a super state. The French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault offered an unusually blunt message to his new British counterpart Thursday.

"During the campaign he lied a lot to the British people and now it is he who has his back against the wall, his back against the wall to defend his country but also with his back against the wall so this relationship with Europe should be clear," Ayrault told French media.

Of all the European powers, it is Germany that Britain most wants to bring onside in the negotiations over its withdrawal. Berlin's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier described Boris Johnson's recent conduct as outrageous'.

"Irresponsible politicians first lured the country into a Brexit to then, once the decision was made, bolt and not take responsibility."

In April Boris Johnson said that U.S. President Barack Obama opposed Brexit because of his part-Kenyan' heritage gave him, in Johnson's words, an ancestral dislike of the British Empire'.

Questioned by reporters on the remarks, Boris Johnson said that "the United States of America will be in the front of the queue" for an apology.

U.S. State Department Spokesman Mark Toner offered a diplomatic response Thursday.

"This is something frankly that goes beyond a relationship, that goes beyond personalities and it is an absolutely critical moment in certainly England's history, but also in the U.S.-U.K. relationship."

Johnson is likely to have a limited role in EU negotiations, as Prime Minister May has created a new government department tasked with handling Brexit', headed by long-time Eurosceptic lawmaker David Davis.

Analyst Ian Bond of the Center for European Reform believes Prime Minister May's political honeymoon is likely to be short.

"She can placate those who have voted for Leave' by saying that the UK will not accept EU regulations, will not pay into the budget, and crucially will impose limits on the free movement of labor. And that seems to be the way that she and David Davis are leaning at the moment. But the economic costs of that if we are shut out of the single market will be very high indeed."

The new British Cabinet includes several senior politicians who for months have attacked each other from rival sides of the Brexit' debate. The new prime minister's first job will be to try to unite them in government, as Britain faces severe political and economic challenges

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