There’s one parliament where there aren’t many supporters of Boris Johnson — thankfully for the British prime minister it’s the European Parliament.
News that Johnson faces a vote of confidence from his own Conservative Party MPs on Monday evening was greeted with mixed feelings in the European legislature. He doesn’t have many fans there, but there are worries that any replacement in the unlikely event he is ousted would be an even pricklier partner for the EU.
“Johnson’s departure would be good news for anyone who cares about the relationship between the EU and the U.K,” said Jeroen Lenaers, a Dutch MEP with the European People’s Party and member of the EU-U.K. Parliamentary Partnership Assembly.
However, Lenaers also warned: “We don’t know who would replace him, and it could be better or worse.”
While Brussels hasn’t been preoccupied with the Partygate scandal that prompted Monday’s vote — a reaction to the gatherings held by government and Conservative Party staff during the COVID lockdown — there’s more concern about how the pro-Brexit Johnson threatened to break the Northern Ireland protocol — the international treaty that avoids a border on the island of Ireland by keeping Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market.
“I saw a British prime minister who was in great difficulty in his own country and tried to use Brexit and the Northern Ireland protocol to his own political gain,” Lenaers said, adding: “He made very cheap political considerations for his own political gain.”
The European Commission was more circumspect. A spokesperson said the Commission, which oversees post-Brexit trade discussions, would not comment on any outcome to Monday’s vote.
But Lenaers’ complaints were echoed by a lawmaker from the Greens.
“Boris Johnson has proven again and again to be an unreliable partner in the negotiations with the EU,” said Terry Reintke, vice president of the Greens and also a member of the EU-U.K. assembly. “He has undermined the trust not only of international allies and friends, but most of all of the people in the U.K.”
Reintke added: “No matter how the no-confidence vote will end tonight, we need a fresh start for EU-U.K. relations.”
Johnson needs the backing of 180 Tory MPs to stay in power — a bar he is likely to pass. If he’s deposed, the party’s MPs will choose a new leader and prime minister in a process that can last several weeks.
However, other EU politicians preferred to downplay the significance of Monday’s vote, arguing it would not have any real repercussions for the EU.
“What happens in the U.K is a palace revolution at the heart of the Conservative Party,” said François Alfonsi, a Green MEP from France. “Johnson was not in favor of any acceptable compromise with Europe, but the responsibility goes mainly to the Tory Party and his replacement with another Tory would not improve things.”