Nearly a dozen candidates are vying to succeed Johnson as the leader of the ruling Conservative party in an increasingly bitter and unpredictable contest, with the winner then becoming prime minister in the fall.
With British politics in turmoil, the ripple effects of a change in leadership will likely be felt abroad but will not change Canada-U.K. relations, political experts say.
“This is not just a domestic situation,” said Andy Mycock, a reader in politics at the University of Huddersfield, in the United Kingdom.
A change in the British regime or the Tory leadership matters on the international stage, said Mycock, pointing to relationships with the European Union post-Brexit and the war in Ukraine.
“One of the things that we can absolutely be sure of is whoever replaces Boris Johnson, they’re certainly going to have a different personality and they’d … probably want to impose a different framework of policy,” he added.
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Johnson’s announcement on Thursday came after months of ethics scandals and a wave of resignations from the government as he dramatically lost the support of his ministers and most Conservative lawmakers.
It still remains to be seen who will replace Johnson, who has been at the helm of a Conservative government since 2019.
The new leader will be chosen in a two-stage election, with the aim to find a successor by September.
Srdjan Vucetic, professor at the graduate school of public and international affairs at the University of Ottawa, said what is happening in Britain is “fairly significant,” and whoever comes into power next could change the U.K.’s role in protecting European security, not just in Ukraine, but other places in Europe.
Whoever takes Johnson’s place, Britain will continue to remain solidly behind Ukraine, said Jeremy Kinsman, a former Canadian high commissioner to the U.K.
“Maybe his successor will be a somewhat more commonplace orator and will get less attention, but I don’t think it’s going to mollify anything significant in the British view,” he told Global News.
On Thursday, global markets were responding positively to Johnson’s announcement, but that could change “depending on what happens next,” Vucetic said.
Britain is a close ally of Canada.
As members of the Commonwealth, NATO, G7 and G20, Canada and the U.K. have a long history of shared interests on the political and economic front.
The two Western nations have aligned NATO commitments to help Ukraine defend against Russia and have coordinated a range of sanctions on Moscow in response to Russia’s invasion of its neighbour.
Canada and Britain are negotiating a new bilateral trade deal because the agreement the two had under the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement dissolved when the U.K. left the European Union.
Johnson championed closer links with Canada, including on trade, after the U.K. left the European Union, kicking off negotiations on a free-trade agreement.
A spokesperson for Canada’s International Trade Minister Mary Ng said that the ousting of Johnson by his party will not affect negotiations, which will continue smoothly as Canada and the U.K. share a long history and close ties.
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Kinsman said that the job of any Canadian prime minister is to get along with his principal partners, including the U.S. and U.K., adding that whoever becomes the new British PM, “both will work at it.”
Given Ottawa’s long history of cooperating with the U.K., Vucetic does not anticipate that Johnson’s exit or even a drastic shift from a Conservative government will impact the two countries’ foreign policies, including NATO commitments to help Ukraine against Russia and various free trade and investment deals.
“I don’t think there’ll be a radical change in our relations or the closeness of our relations. I think they will remain exactly as they are right now,” he said.
— With files from Global News’ Crystal Goomansingh, Kyle Benning, The Canadian Press, Reuters and the Associated Press
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