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Boris Johnson: What’s waiting in new prime minister’s inbox as he takes power?

Boris Johnson will soon get the keys to Number 10 at one of the most testing times in British political history.

Apart from Brexit, he will have to deal with a diplomatic dispute in the Gulf, a US president who uses Twitter to air his grievances and a growing public demand to deal with climate change.

Sky News’ specialist team has laid out what’s likely to be waiting for Mr Johnson as he steps into his new Downing Street office.

Mark White, home affairs correspondent

The first priority of any prime minister is to protect the nation and its citizens.

At home, Boris Johnson has two major security challenges – the continuing threat from terrorism and record high levels of violence, including knife crime.


He is promising to make £1.1bn available to recruit an additional 20,000 police officers in England and Wales, effectively reversing the cuts in officer numbers seen since 2010 under both David Cameron and Theresa May.

Although such a commitment has been welcomed by those within the police service, they point out that the crisis facing policing is not just about the number of officers.

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Many police stations have closed and resources are stretched, managing a huge increase in the types of offences the service is being asked to deal with.

Extra officers will help, but there are many other factors contributing to the rise in violent crime, including cuts to health and social services, as well as the closure of many community centres and youth projects.

Image: Mr Johnson is hoping to recruit an additional 20,000 officers in England and Wales

It is far less clear what Prime Minister Johnson would do to address the loss of those services.

On prison sentences, Mr Johnson has indicated he wants to be far tougher.

It is an approach which seems completely at odds with that of Justice Secretary David Gauke, who has repeatedly said he wants to see many more community sentences handed down to those who are currently jailed for 12 months or less.

Although concerns over immigration were undoubtedly a driver for many of those who voted Brexit, Boris Johnson is actually far more positive about the benefits immigration brings.

As London’s mayor and again recently in a newspaper article, he signalled his support for an amnesty for illegal immigrants, who have been here at least 15 years and “played by the rules”.

But convincing many in his own party about the merits of such an amnesty, is likely to prove pretty tough for the new prime minister.

Given all of the other competing priorities, don’t expect a Johnson government amnesty bill anytime soon, if ever.

Paul Kelso, health correspondent

Boris Johnson will find a NHS creaking at the seams and a full-blown crisis in social care when he arrives in Downing Street. What he intends to do about it is less clear.

Mr Johnson’s pronouncements on health are limited to the infamous, inaccurate side-of-a-bus pledge that Brexit would deliver £350m-a-week more to the NHS. His weekly columns for the Daily Telegraph provide few clues to what else he might think. A trawl of his past three year’s output reveals only passing mentions of the public service most cherished by voters.

He may feel the funding question has been answered by his predecessor. Theresa May delivered five-year funding deal worth 3.4% a year that, by 2025, will be worth close to £350m per week, a figure that is neither a coincidence, nor covered by a “Brexit dividend”.

Money has not solved the NHS’s problems however. Mr Johnson takes office with hospitals recording the worst A&E, cancer and elective operations performance since current measures began and with the longest-ever waiting list, approaching 4.5m people.

Behind the numbers lies a genuine staffing crisis exacerbated by Brexit uncertainty, including the prospect of a £30,000 earnings threshold for new immigrants wanting to work in the NHS.

Image: Money alone will not solve the NHS’s problems

There is also a pensions taxation mess that is causing doctors to cancel overtime because it is not worth their while. Solutions to these challenges lie not in the Department of Health, but in the Home Office, the Treasury and ultimately Number 10.

Harder and more pressing than all of the above is social care, fast becoming an act of national neglect future generations may struggle to forgive. Mrs May promised a green paper more than two years ago but, since her botched proposals at the 2017 election helped cost the Conservatives a majority, it may not appear in this parliament.

The shameful treatment of children and adults with learning disabilities and autism trapped in a care system, half of which has been sub-contracted to the private sector, should also be a priority.

A solution requires all the things the current political climate cannot provide: cross-party co-operation, serious engagement with detail, long-term planning, and honesty with the electorate that every solution will require us all – young and old – to pay more to insure against infirmity, either in taxation, insurance premiums, or our savings, including property wealth.

Perhaps Mr Johnson thinks optimism and a can-do spirit can fix social care as well as Brexit, but it would be a surprise if he risked it this side of an election.

Alistair Bunkall, security and defence correspondent

Two security challenges face the new prime minister as soon as he takes office:

The crisis in the Gulf has deepened and dragged the UK in. Although the May government did what it could to de-escalate the situation, Iran has vowed revenge after Royal Marines impounded one of its oil tankers in waters off Gibraltar.

Mindful of the threat to commercial shipping, a second British warship has arrived in the Gulf region but so far the government has resisted US attempts for a co-ordinated maritime coalition to patrol the waters off Iran’s coast. Will Mr Johnson pursue diplomacy or look to the military to make his point?

The second challenge is Huawei. The Chinese telecommunications firm wants to be a part of the UK’s future 5G network but the US, and others, believe it might be used by Beijing to spy and hoover up sensitive national data.

Image: The Chinese telecommunications firm wants to be a part of the UK’s future 5G network

The UK has so far dragged its feet but a decision is now overdue.

Leaked detail from a National Security Committee in April revealed that Theresa May was minded to allow the Chinese firm into some peripheral areas of the UK’s 5G network, but ministers are divided.

Shut Huawei out completely and you almost certainly upset China at a time when London needs to be talking trade with Beijing. Allow Huawei in, even just a bit, and the White House will kick off, threatening security and economic partnerships.

Boris Johnson has made no secret of his desire to work closely with President Trump – co-operation on both the above issues will do much to make an early impression on the White House but in the heady early days of power, he would be sensible to remember, gratification from President Trump is often short-lived.

Ed Conway, economics editor

Much is still unclear about what the economy will look like under Boris Johnson.

We do not know his precise policy platform. We do not know what he would like to have in his first Budget. Most of all we do not know what will happen with Brexit.

Yet we already know a few crucial details about the likely path of economic policy under the next government. The first and perhaps most important lesson is that Mr Johnson intends to well and truly bring austerity to an end.

During the leadership campaign Mr Johnson made numerous pledges to cut taxes and raise public spending. He promised to spend more on infrastructure, from fibre broadband for all to new rail links in the North.

This will all cost a considerable amount of money and so, one presumes, under Mr Johnson the government will have to borrow more.

More borrowing and, potentially, more government debt. That means more money to be paid off by future generations. Is that a disaster? Not necessarily.

As things stand the budget deficit is at the lowest level in two decades and the national debt, while high, is falling. Still, it is hard to see how Mr Johnson’s plans are compatible with the fiscal rules laid down by either of his two predecessors.

Image: Mr Johnson will have to appoint the next Bank of England governor

Soon after taking office, Mr Johnson will also have to make perhaps the most important appointment of his prime ministership – the next Bank of England governor.

That decision will shape the development of the economy for a period of eight years. The new governor may well outlast Mr Johnson and could be in office during a Labour government.

The economy itself is in robust shape, when looked at over the medium term. Unemployment is at the lowest level in decades; employment is at a record high and real wages are rising by around 1%. Although it is quite possible the first piece of major economic news of a Johnson premiership will be negative – with the announcement of a possible contraction of Q2 GDP due in early August – this looks likely to be a blip rather than a major crisis.

Then again, that, as with so much else, depends on the shape of the Brexit plan Mr Johnson and his ministers develop. That will help determine the strength of the economy, the exchange rate and families’ wages for months and years to come.

Ian King, business presenter

Business largely hopes that, despite his insistence that the UK must be ready to leave the EU with no-deal if necessary, Boris Johnson is in reality preparing to ensure a no-deal Brexit does not happen.

It hopes the Boris Johnson in Number 10 will not be the “f*** business” version of the referendum campaign and its poisonous aftermath but the business-friendly, pro-immigration, economic liberal they remember as London mayor.

That Boris Johnson was also a tax cutter. During his first four years as mayor, he froze the amount the Greater London Authority extracts from council taxpayers – which rose by 152% under Ken Livingstone – and in his second term, he actually cut it.

With the UK’s tax burden set during the next parliament to hit its highest level since 1986-87, many business leaders therefore hope he will deliver the tax cuts promised during the leadership contest.

Big cuts to stamp duty or, better still, its outright abolition would deliver a huge economic stimulus just as the economy was grappling with Brexit.

And, once Brexit has happened, business will want the swift completion of trade deals, particularly with the United States, where Mr Johnson’s warm relationship with Donald Trump can be brought to bear.

Amanda Walker, US correspondent

Politically – Boris Johnson and Donald Trump are kindred spirits: Larger than life populists who campaigned on controlling immigration – seizing on frustrations with establishment politics and harkening back to mythical “better days”.

They share a back catalogue of outrageous and controversial public comments and of course the uncommon hair.

So far the US president has offered a ringing endorsement of Mr Johnson – saying he thinks their relationship will be “great” and that the new prime minister can fix the “disaster” that is Brexit so far.

So all things considered Mr Johnson is well-placed to have a decent relationship with President Trump. But no one in the capricious leader’s orbit takes good relations for granted.

Image: Politically – Boris Johnson and Donald Trump are kindred spirits

Mr Johnson’s biggest challenge will be walking the very fine line between cosying up to get a good post-Brexit trade deal – and failing to stand up to a leader who seems ready and willing to activate America’s worst instincts to get re-elected in 2020.

In 2015, Mr Johnson was not afraid to hit back when Mr Trump said some parts of London had become so “radicalised” that the police feared for their own lives.

The then London mayor, Mr Johnson, shot back saying the billionaire tycoon was “betraying a quite stupefying ignorance that makes him, frankly, unfit to hold the office of president of the United States”.

Don’t expect that kind of talk when he’s prime minister. The fact that Mr Johnson refused to back outgoing UK ambassador Sir Kim Darroch suggests he’ll take the pally route – but at what cost?

Rhiannon Mills, royal correspondent

It will be the most important weekly meeting in the new prime minister’s diary – his one-to-one catch ups with the Queen. Boris Johnson has met Her Majesty on many occasions, as London mayor and foreign secretary.

As her 14th prime minister he will become a member of an incredibly fortunate club of men and women who’ve been able to share their inner most thoughts on the most important matters of state with a monarch whose decades of experience are without equal.

But before they’ve even sat down for that first cup of tea, he’s already being accused of potentially getting the Queen into constitutional hot water. The fact he’s considering proroguing parliament to get through a no-deal Brexit has set him on a collision course with those wanting to defend her majesty’s honour.

Image: Mr Johnson will be invited to stay with the Queen in Balmoral later this summer

It is after all only the Queen who can suspend parliament, on the advice of her prime minister, and many see that as forcing her into the middle of a huge constitutional controversy.

The Queen’s dedication to serving her United Kingdom is unquestioned. What’s also widely believed – though publicly the Palace is studiously neutral – is that she is a supporter of the Acts of Union that hold the UK together, and does not wish to preside over Scotland or Northern Ireland departing. If that is true, she may be among the ranks of those concerned that Mr Johnson’s determination to leave the EU, without a deal if necessary, would threaten the break-up of the country.

Her Majesty has had to delay her summer holiday to Scotland to welcome her latest prime minister. She will be heading to Balmoral in the next week or so, but will be constantly updated on the ongoing political twists and turns by her private secretaries.

And from the prime minister himself, who like his predecessors, will be invited to stay with her in Balmoral later this summer.

Thomas Moore, science correspondent

Climate change will have to be a priority for the new prime minister.

One of Theresa May’s final acts was to make a legal commitment to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2050, yet the government is already slipping behind existing less ambitious targets.

Boris Johnson needs to come up with a new plan and fast.

The omens aren’t good.

As recently as June he wrote in his newspaper column that the market, rather than the state, would find the solutions.

It’s true that it’s now cheaper to build wind turbines rather than fossil fuel power stations. But only because state subsidies in the past supported the innovation that brought prices down.

And without financial incentives from the Treasury it’s hard to see how consumers will replace their gas boilers, super-insulate their homes and drive electric.

Then there’s Heathrow. Mr Johnson opposed the third runway as London mayor, but there are whispers that he has changed his mind, to the alarm of environmental campaigners.

Climate change ranks high in the concerns of voters so this is an issue the new prime minister can’t duck.

Rowland Manthorpe, technology correspondent

Whereas Theresa May simply didn’t care about technology, Boris Johnson is an enthusiastic supporter of it.

Unfortunately, that’s where it ends. His pledge to bring full fibre to all homes by 2025 is typical. It sounds good, but unless something radical changes it’s almost certainly doomed to fail.

His belief that “can-do spirit” can solve the technical issues of the Irish border is very similar.

A real change of direction under Mr Johnson is therefore unlikely. As a result, his premiership is likely to be defined his reaction to tough technological questions.

The first of these is already looming: Should the UK have Huawei in its 5G network? Early signs suggest Mr Johnson intends to ignore the technical advice to retain Huawei and follow President Trump’s lead in excluding it.

Will the same be true of NHS patient data? Or tech company tax? The only thing we know for sure – faced with these challenges, enthusiasm alone won’t be enough.


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