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Monday, Sep 23, 2019

Optimism or bluster? PM Boris kicks off with new team

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson signalled a review of the immigration system during his first cabinet meeting. “No-one believes more strongly than me in the benefits of migration to our country,” he said.

world Updated: Jul 26, 2019 08:37 IST
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson attends the first Cabinet meeting at Downing Street in London.
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson attends the first Cabinet meeting at Downing Street in London.(REUTERS)

The first day of Boris Johnson as prime minister witnessed a pugnacious performance in the House of Commons described as ‘optimistic’ by supporters and as ‘bluster’ by critics, after a meeting of his cabinet that included three Indian-origin ministers.

Harping on his promise to leave the EU by October, ‘come what may’, with or without a deal, Johnson took on what he called pessimism of his critics, insisting that he would seek to re-negotiate a deal with Brussels, but leave without one if it were not possible.

Johnson also signalled a review of the immigration system: “We will ensure that we continue to attract the brightest and best talent from around the world. No-one believes more strongly than me in the benefits of migration to our country”.

“But I am clear that our immigration system must change. For years, politicians have promised the public an Australian-style points-based system. And today I will deliver on those promises - I will ask the Migration Advisory Committee to conduct a review of that system as the first step in a radical rewriting of our immigration system”.

Rishi Sunak, who is among three Indian-origin ministers and attended the cabinet as chief secretary to the treasury, said Johnson had acted decisively by excluding several leading lights in the Theresa May government, so that he could change the UK for the better.

“He wants a cabinet that is a reflection of modern Britain, and that is exactly what we have got. It draws on talent from across parliamentary parties in terms of women and ethnic minorities. It better reflects the country that we wish to serve, but crucially it … supports the prime minister’s priority to deliver Brexit by the end of October,” he told BBC.

The cabinet meeting in Downing Street was attended by home secretary Priti Patel, international development secretary Alok Sharma and chancellor Sajid Javid among others.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn raised several questions and challenged Johnson to hold an election before implementing a new Brexit agreement that he may be able to reach with Brussels. Labour would campaign to remain in the EU in the elections, he said.

Johnson told MPs: “I would prefer us to leave the EU with a deal. I believe that it is possible even at this late stage, and I will work flat-out to make it happen. But certain things need to be clear”.

“The withdrawal agreement negotiated by my predecessor has been rejected by this house three times. Its terms are unacceptable to this parliament and to this country.”

However, EU leaders, including Ireland Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, have rejected the possibility of re-negotiating the withdrawal agreement signed during the tenure of Prime Minister Theresa May.

First Published: Jul 25, 2019 20:07 IST