Julie Bishop says she does not underestimate the new British prime minister


The former Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop warned that it would be a "huge mistake" to underestimate Boris Johnson, while the world digestes the news that will happen to Theresa May as British prime minister.

Not all of them are thrilled by the looming elevation of Mr. Johnson.

On the eve of his leadership electoral victory over rival Jeremy Hunt last night, three former prime ministers warned that his plans for Brexit could end in disaster.

A series of government ministers indicated that they will resign from the forecourt rather than serve under Mr. Johnson.

And, of course, some sections of the media and the British public are horrified.

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But having worked closely with Johnson during his time as the best British diplomat, Bishop is confident that "he will be at the height of the occasion".

"It would be a mistake to underestimate Boris Johnson," he said Sunrise this morning.

"I worked with him very closely, I developed a good working relationship with him for many years and saw him in action in forums all over the world. And it would be a great mistake to underestimate him, as many of his critics do . "

During his years in politics, returning to his time as mayor of London, Johnson held the position of "Jovial fool" in public. A former colleague once described it as "an intelligent person pretending to be stupid".

According to Bishop, he is much more excited than one might expect behind the scenes.

"He's a flashy, funny and witty character, but he also has a laser-like focus on driving change," he said.

The first job that will consume Mr. Johnson when he becomes prime minister will be to lead Britain's exit from the European Union.

The country's parliament rejected any options proposed so far, including several versions of an agreement that Mrs. May negotiated with the EU.

His deputy states that he is willing to leave the EU without any agreement at the end of October – a prospect to which many MPs in his party are bitterly opposed.

"He certainly faces some significant challenges in bringing his party and his country together," Bishop said.

"Since he campaigned on a platform to be ready to play football with the Europeans on Brexit, he needs his party's support and I hope you accept it.

"Neither side wants a tough Brexit, which is Britain crashing without a negotiated agreement. But that means he needs parliamentary support, he certainly needs his party's support, to be in the best position he can be to ensure an orderly transition for Britain out of the EU. "

The exit process involves incalculable risks for Britain, but Bishop sees it as an opportunity for Australia, particularly with Johnson on Downing Street.

"Boris Johnson has an unusually close relationship with Australia for a British prime minister. He spent his gap year here attending the Geelong Grammar, visited Australia many times, "he said.

"He was here for the annual Australia-UK ministerial forum. I hosted in Sydney and spent several days here remembering the good times he spent in this country. He knows many Australian politicians and public figures well.

"He gave a wonderful speech at the Sydney Town Hall in 2017, where he talked about his love and affection for Australia. So I think we are well positioned to have an even stronger relationship with Britain.

"And of course, after Brexit there will be enormous opportunities for us to increase our trade relations with Britain and more generally political and strategic ties.

"I know that Boris has a great interest in our part of the world, especially the Pacific. He often spoke of wanting to visit the Pacific and Southeast Asia more often, as a foreign secretary, and hopefully it will continue now. "

Johnson has promised that he will put together a "Cabinet for modern Britain", with a record number of minority ministers.

And he can expect to have many places to fill in the Cabinet room, with senior Tory figures like Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond who refuses to serve under him.

Mr. Hunt, the defeated leadership candidate who will almost certainly be removed as a foreign secretary when Johnson takes over, said he was sure the new prime minister "will do a great job".

"He has optimism, enthusiasm, makes people's faces smile and has a total and unyielding confidence in our fantastic country," Hunt said.

That optimism and enthusiasm were put on display during Mr Johnson's brief but joyful victory speech to party members and politicians last night.

Johnson stated that "he will deliver the Brexit, unite the country and defeat Jeremy Corbyn", referring to the leader of the Labor Party.

The main Brexit negotiator of the EU, Michel Barnier, said he did not see the time to "work constructively" with Johnson. But the union is adamant and will not renegotiate the terms that struck Ms. May.

Economists have warned that Brexit will not hinder trade and could plunge the UK into a recession.



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