Brussels does not appear ready to cave to Boris Johnson

Emmanuel Macron and Ursula von der Leyen.
(Image credit: LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP/Getty Images)

It's a big day for incoming U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who officially won the race for Conservative party leadership over Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt on Tuesday.

But it looks like he has his work cut out for him — Brussels apparently isn't going to cave Johnson's demands, which include nixing the Irish border backstop.

Incoming European commission president Ursula von der Leyden warned him that "there are many difficult issues" ahead. Meanwhile, Michael Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, said he hopes to work "constructively" with Johnson on the basis that they stick with facilitating outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May's withdrawal agreement, which Johnson has described as "dead."

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Johnson has said that he's prepared for a no-deal Brexit on Oct. 31 if the sides can't reach an agreement before then, which seems like a tall order given how long previous negotiations have taken.

While some European leaders like French President Emmanuel Macron and Ireland's Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney expressed a willingness to get down to business with the polarizing Johnson, others were not so welcoming. One European commissioner from Lithuania, Vytenis Andriukaitis, compared Johnson to "a different Boris," the former Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Andriukaitis said he sees a lot of similarities between the two Borises, including their "unrealistic promises" and dismissals of "economic rationales and rational decisions."

That said, not everyone doubts Johnson can renegotiate a deal. Pieter Cleppe, who works at the Open Europe think-tank, told Forbes in June that if Johnson shows he's "serious" about a no-deal Brexit, while taking on the persona of a "friendly, funny Trump," he could have a shot at working something out with his continental counterparts. Read more about the at The Guardian and Forbes.

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Tim O'Donnell

Tim is a staff writer at The Week and has contributed to Bedford and Bowery and The New York Transatlantic. He is a graduate of Occidental College and NYU's journalism school. Tim enjoys writing about baseball, Europe, and extinct megafauna. He lives in New York City.