Boris Johnson made his debut as prime minister at a major international gathering this weekend at the G7 meeting in Biarritz. Here are six things we learned:
Boris Johnson really loves being prime minister
The personal plane, the phalanx of advisers, the face-time with the world’s most powerful people: anyone would enjoy playing prime minister for a while. But this is Boris Johnson’s dream job – and he is absolutely loving it.
Whether it was pointing at a smirking Donald Trump across the Biarritz breakfast table, or ribbing Scott Morrison about the cricket, every photo of Johnson at this weekend’s summit showed him grinning from ear to ear.
If there is a Brexit plan, he hasn’t revealed it yet
Donald Tusk said on Saturday he was “willing to listen to ideas that are operational, realistic and acceptable to all EU member states, including Ireland, if and when the UK government is ready”.
After the meeting, EU officials said there were “no new substantive elements from any side, and obviously not from the UK side”; and Johnson himself gave no clues about what was in store.
It’s all about the blame game
Over and again when he was questioned by reporters, Johnson insisted that a no-deal Brexit would come about only because of the “obduracy” of “our European friends”.
Downing Street apparently still hopes to avoid that eventuality – and indeed some Brussels-watchers claim there are signs of flexibility emerging – but he is carefully laying the groundwork for blaming the EU27 if things go wrong.
He’s an animal fan
Theresa May had a late conversion to the environmental cause, swiftly legislating for a target of net-zero emissions by 2050 in her final weeks in office.
Johnson wants to be even greener – and in particular to focus on species extinction, which he made one of his three themes at the summit, telling leaders that tackling the climate emergency and protecting endangered species are “two sides of the same coin” – and raising whaling with the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe.
Cynics might suggest he has the electorate in mind – David Cameron famously “hugged a husky” as he sought to detoxify the Tories in 2006 – and the issue of foxhunting played very badly for May in 2017; but Johnson has long shown an interest in conservation.
Britain is still ready to side with the EU – sometimes
One of the messages Johnson was keen to land from this weekend was one he has repeatedly made since the referendum result in 2016 – that while Britain is leaving the EU, it will still have common interests with key European countries on many issues.
Perhaps most symbolic of that was the fact that Johnson lined up against Trump at the testy summit dinner on Saturday evening, and insisted Russia must not be readmitted to the G7.
That has been a consistent UK position, in particular since the Skripal attack, perhaps most vividly seen in Theresa May’s grim-faced meeting with Vladimir Putin in Osaka. But Johnson will have been pleased to be on the same side of the argument as Merkel and Macron, both of whom he will need to work closely with in the coming days.
Buffoonery is out
In the past, one reason for Johnson’s frequent gaffes was his constant, approval-seeking tic of sprinkling jokes into every public utterance.
During his leadership campaign, allies were already saying they had seen a more serious side of the man once better known for his Have I Got News For You appearances than his parliamentary oratory.
He’s still fond of using colourful language to convey a message, but he seems to have decided gags are not very prime ministerial.