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Boris Johnson Steps Into Prime Minister Role And Inherits Deeply Divided U.K.


As of today, Boris Johnson is the U.K.'s prime minister. His first task is all consuming - find a way to pull Britain out of the European Union and do it by October. For some in the U.K., he is the man for the job, not for others. As NPR's Joanna Kakissis reports from London, the British either love Boris Johnson or they hate him.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Boris Johnson has long joked about his prospects of becoming prime minister.


PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: I have about as much chance of being, you know, reincarnated as an olive.


KAKISSIS: That got a laugh out of David Letterman 12 years ago. But those who know Johnson say he always planned to stand right where he was today, outside the prime minister's residence on 10 Downing Street.


JOHNSON: Good afternoon. I have just been to see her majesty the queen, who has invited me to form a government, and I have accepted.

KAKISSIS: With his platinum blonde hair and his propensity for self-effacing gaffes, the Latin-quoting Johnson is the closest thing to a celebrity politician in Britain, but now he vows he will be the man who will deliver Brexit and save, not destroy, his country.


JOHNSON: The doubters, the doomsters, the gloomsters - they are going to get it wrong again. The people who bet against Britain are going to lose their shirts because we're going to restore trust in our democracy.

KAKISSIS: Johnson's optimism has won over voters like Scott Walker, who lives in the green valleys of Bedfordshire in east England.

SCOTT WALKER: I'm a builder, plasterer, just working-class Brit, really.

KAKISSIS: Walker believes Johnson seems to get regular people, even though the prime minister grew up wealthy and privileged, attending the best schools in Britain.

WALKER: I bet he'd probably have a pint with me and shake my hand at a bar.

KAKISSIS: And he loves that Johnson does not seem to care who he offends.

WALKER: He's a bit of a performer, you know. He's a bit of a comedian. He's not afraid to say what's on his mind, even if it gets him in trouble. And in the political correctness world, that's not good (laughter) you know? But if it gets things done, it gets things done.

KAKISSIS: Walker voted for Britain to leave the European Union in 2016 because of immigration. He says other Europeans are crowding out the British. He wants out now even with no deal.

WALKER: No deal is better than a bad deal. I think Boris is the closest chance we've got.

KAKISSIS: But not everyone's a fan of Boris Johnson. In fact, Amy Rushton, who joined a protest in central London, actually hates him.

AMY RUSHTON: It's hard to put into words how negatively I feel about that man.

KAKISSIS: Rushton is a 30-year-old graduate student from London, the city that Johnson once ran as mayor.

RUSHTON: He's unrepresentative of British life and British people. He's racist, homophobic, sexist, a colonialist. He spins the media to think that he's a laughable and affable fellow, but actually he's, I think, insidiously dangerous, to be honest.

KAKISSIS: In her view, no serious politician would ever entertain the idea of pulling the U.K. out of the EU with no deal.

RUSHTON: So the idea that he's doing that is, to me, just, like, so irresponsible. I think he really cares about power and No. 10, and he's got it now, so hopefully he doesn't stick around very long.

KAKISSIS: But Johnson has quickly gotten to work selecting his Cabinet and is promising to unite his divided country.

Joanna Kakissis, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joanna Kakissis
Joanna Kakissis is an international correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she leads NPR's bureau and coverage of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.