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Johnson set for PM job beset by Brexit, Iran crisis

The former London mayor, who charms and alarms colleagues in equal numbers, is widely expected to beat Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt when the results of the Conservative leadership contest are declared.

Conservative MP and leadership contender Boris Johnson addresses the final Conservative Party leadership election hustings in London, on 17 July 2019. Picture: AFP

LONDON - Boris Johnson is set to win the race Tuesday to become Britain's next prime minister, charged with resolving the Brexit impasse and the high-stakes tanker crisis with Iran.

Johnson, who has vowed to take Britain out of the European Union on the 31 October deadline, with or without a deal, is set to march head-on into a collision with Brussels, the British parliament and Tehran.

The former London mayor, who charms and alarms colleagues in equal numbers, is widely expected to beat Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt when the results of the Conservative leadership contest are declared.

The governing party's new leader will take over from Theresa May as prime minister on Wednesday.

After exhausting all possible avenues to get her Brexit plan through parliament, May stepped down as party leader on June 7, triggering a six-week leadership contest.

Some 160,000 grassroots Conservative party members had the chance to choose their new leader.

But the incoming premier faces exactly the same set of circumstances - if not worse - with parliament deadlocked as the Brexit deadline looms.

PERILOUS MAJORITY

The new leader will have just three months to attempt to resolve a three-year Brexit crisis that could damage economies on both sides of the Channel and determine the fate of generations of Britons.

The pound is trading near a two-year low against the dollar and the euro.

And the new prime minister takes over with a precariously tiny majority in parliament's lower House of Commons.

It was cut to just two on Monday following the suspension of Charlie Elphicke from the Conservative ranks after he was charged with three counts of sexual assault. He denies the allegations.

Johnson's seemingly imminent appointment triggered some ministers to announce their resignations, including finance minister Philip Hammond.

Alan Duncan quit as Britain's Europe and Americas minister on Monday -- and tried to bring down Johnson's leadership before he even takes office.

"I have very grave concerns that he flies by the seat of his pants and it's all a bit haphazard and ramshackle," Duncan told the BBC.

"I just think he's going to go smack into a crisis of government."

He tried to force a test of Johnson's support in parliament via an emergency debate on Tuesday, which was rejected by Commons Speaker John Bercow.

Politics in Britain has become increasingly polarised around the Brexit issue, with both the Conservatives and the infighting-riven Labour main opposition haemorrhaging support.

The Liberal Democrats, the biggest unambiguously anti-Brexit opposition party, on Monday announced Jo Swinson as their new chief after their own leadership contest.

"I will do whatever it takes to stop Brexit," the 39-year-old Scot said.

The Britain Elects opinion poll aggregator puts Labour on 25 percent, the Conservatives on 23, the Brexit Party on 21 and the Lib Dems on 18, highlighting the four-way split.

GULF TENSIONS

Besides his domestic battles, Johnson will have to try to secure a resolution to the stand-off with Iran.

In a dramatic escalation of tensions, Tehran seized the British-flagged Stena Impero on Friday in the strategic Strait of Hormuz, against a backdrop of brinkmanship between the United States and Iran.

Speaking in parliament on Monday, Hunt branded Tehran's actions as "state piracy".

He announced that Britain was planning a European-led protection force for shipping in the Gulf.

May will answer questions in parliament as prime minister for the final time at midday (1100 GMT) on Wednesday.

She will then make one last speech outside the premier's Downing Street office before heading to Buckingham Palace to tender her resignation to Queen Elizabeth II.

The 93-year-old head of state will then invite the new Conservative leader to form an administration.

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