Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will likely need much the same approach for dealing with new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he’s used with U.S. President Donald Trump — but that doesn’t mean the two are the same, experts suggest.
“I mean, this guy went to Eton and Oxford. He’s whip-smart,” said Mel Cappe, former Canadian high commissioner to the United Kingdom in describing how Johnson’s academic and political background play into his rhetoric.
“He is not like Trump in that respect. So this guy is going to be different. I think the analogy to Trump is misplaced. Having said that, he is unpredictable. He is brash. Those are the two words you used and he is going to be a challenge to deal with.”
Cappe, who is a professor of public policy at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, served as high commissioner from 2002 to 2006 and also served as Clerk of the Privy Council prior to his appointment.
He said the official appointment of Johnson as prime minister by the Queen on Wednesday will pose challenges for the Canadian government but that the challenges of his unpredictability are akin to those officials have already had to adapt to when dealing with Trump.
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Chief among those challenges will likely be the crises immediately facing Johnson: namely, the risk of a hard Brexit in October and the escalating tensions with Iran over seized British ships in the Strait of Hormuz.
“I think it’s not that different than dealing with Donald Trump. He’s a populist, he’s going to be particularly partisan,” said former Canadian foreign affairs minister John Baird, now a senior advisor with Bennett Jones.
“It’s going to be a big year for the United Kingdom both with just surviving in a minority parliament and delivering Brexit with a very divided House of Commons, so I think it’s going to take a lot of skills on behalf of the Canadian government in responding to what’s going to be a big challenge.”
Both suggested that while the underlying alliance between Canada and the U.K. will remain intact, much as it has with the United States, some of the difficulties will likely stem from a shift in support that Canada has historically relied upon from its ally.
“When I was high commissioner in the U.K., one of the great things we did often was get the United Kingdom to represent us in the councils of Europe,” said Cappe. “We can’t count on that anymore.”
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Johnson was sworn in after winning the Conservative Party leadership race in the U.K. following the resignation of former prime minister Theresa May in May.
That move came after she failed to secure a deal to take the U.K. out of the European Union that could win enough support in the British House of Commons.
She became prime minister just one month after the 2016 vote by British citizens to take the country out of the economic and political bloc.
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The issue of how to do so consumed her leadership and is set to do the same with Johnson, who has taken a hard stance advocating for an exit with or without a deal on the scheduled date of Oct. 31, 2019.
The European Union has refused to renegotiate the deal it reached with May.
If the U.K. crashes out of the EU on the exit date, default World Trade Organization rules will apply until other free trade deals with partners can be negotiated. But it cannot officially negotiate those deals before it leaves the EU.
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However, one Canadian government source told Global News that officials have been negotiating a provisional agreement behind the scenes that is very similar to the current free trade deal with the European Union, and it’s virtually complete.
All that’s needed for it to take effect in the event of a hard Brexit are the signatures.