Politicians and business leaders in Belgium have been responding to Thursday’s election victory of British prime minister Boris Johnson, on a slogan of “Get Brexit done”. Johnson’s Conservative party was returned with an overall majority of 80 seats.
The European Union is ready to start negotiating with the UK on the question of a future trade relationship, said EU Council president Charles Michel. The UK is currently still formally a member state of the union, due to leave at the end of January. There then follows a one-year transition period. But a trade deal is likely to take much longer, according to experts, despite Johnson’s public promises.
“We are ready. We have defined our priorities,” said Michel. Indeed, in the three and a half years since the UK referendum on continued membership of the EU, the two sides have talked about little else. But an agreement remains a long way off. According to a decision of the EU summit on Friday, the job of negotiating with Johnson’s government on the future relationship between the EU and UK will go to Michel Barnier, Europe’s chef representative in the talks that have been going on until now.
The new relationship with the UK is likely to hit Flanders hardest in Belgium, with the region representing a majority of the country’s trade with Britain. Flanders expects to suffer losses in export earnings, particular in sectors like food products and cars. But Flemish minister-president Jan Jambon was fulsome in his congratulations on Johnson’s victory – the most decisive the country has seen since the days of the late Margaret Thatcher.
“I wish wholeheartedly to congratulate Boris Johnson on his election victory,” Jambon tweeted. “The horror scenario of a no-deal Brexit is now apparently avoided. We now need to work on a new relationship with the British, with whom Flanders has especially close ties.”
Caretaker prime minister Sophie Wilmès also offered her best wishes on the social media platform. “I would like to congratulate @BorisJohnson with his victory in the #UKelection. We value the strong bond between #Belgium and the #UK. Now preparing the next phase that will shape our future relationship.”
Meanwhile, leaving protocol to one side, N-VA former minister Theo Francken (photo) took the opportunity of the Conservative victory to hit out at a favourite target: the media.
“The monster victor of @BorisJohnson is yet another defeat for the media,” he tweeted, “Time and time again they underestimate the Right. And the day after the election they begin again as ever to force their left-progressive opinions on all of us.”