Iran issue looms as Boris Johnson begins his first day as British prime minister

After yesterday’s announcement that Boris Johnson won the Conservative Party leadership ballot, the former London mayor will officially take office

boris johnson prime minister

Photo: Reuters/Henry Nicholls

After yesterday’s announcement that Boris Johnson won the Conservative Party leadership ballot, the former London mayor will officially take office as Britain’s new prime minister today.

Mr Johnson’s most immediate foreign policy challenge will be the issue of escalating tensions with Iran after Tehran seized Britain’s Steno Impero oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz last Friday. The seizure was in retaliation to Britain’s capture of an Iranian tanker in Gibraltar earlier this month.

The crisis positioned Britain somewhere between the US and Europe’s differing approaches on Iran. London justified its seizure of the Iranian tanker by claiming that it was bound for Syria in violation of EU sanctions. However, a number of European powers have questioned the legality of the seizure—specifically whether Iran is bound by EU sanctions on Syria.

London’s response has been inconsistent thus far; it has vowed “serious consequences” but has also stressed the need for de-escalation.

“Serious consequences” would involve increased, unilateral British sanctions against the Islamic Republic and possibly stepping away from the 2015 nuclear agreement—something London has previously been reticent to do. De-escalation would likely mean negotiating with Tehran for the mutual release of both tankers. With Washington favouring the former approach and Europe the latter, which way Mr Johnson will go will signal whether his foreign policy will prioritise Euro or Atlantic relations during his tenure as premier.

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