But behind the canned congratulations was a more familiar message: that when it comes to Brexit, nothing has changed.
Michel Barnier, the EU’s former chief Brexit negotiator, said the bloc would work constructively with the new prime minister to “facilitate the ratification of the withdrawal agreement”—a document that Johnson previously declared “dead.” European Council President Donald Tusk, in a more curt message, told Johnson that he looked forward to discussing cooperation with Britain “in detail,” emphasizing the area where Brussels has repeatedly claimed London is lacking. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told Johnson in a phone call yesterday that the current deal is “the best and only agreement possible.”
Read: Boris Johnson’s plan to solve Brexit: Believe harder
That the EU would easily greet Johnson with a different negotiating position from the one presented to his predecessor was always fanciful. It has spent the better part of the past year telling London that the deal agreed on between them was final, the inclusion of the so-called Irish backstop—a mechanism to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland by temporarily keeping Britain close to EU rules and regulations—an unmovable red line.
“He hopes he will get a very different treatment from our side than Mrs. May,” Danuta Hübner, a Polish member of the European Parliament who sits on the chamber’s Brexit Steering Group, told me. “I don’t think there is any logic in expecting that the Union can have a different offer for a new prime minister. For us, the partner was always the U.K. and the British people.”
Part of the problem, Hübner said, is that the EU no longer has a mandate from its members to negotiate a new agreement from scratch with Britain. As far as Brussels is concerned, the deal is already done (a belief that was reaffirmed when the bloc’s negotiating team was dismantled earlier this year). On the issue of the controversial backstop in particular, there is no incentive for the EU to make any changes that risk damage to the bloc’s internal market. “We don’t have the mandate from 450 million people on the continent, including Ireland, to damage the single market, which we have been building for so many years,” Hübner said, adding: “We cannot dismantle it because of Mr. Johnson’s vision of independence for the U.K.”
Of course, the EU’s position isn’t the only thing that remains unchanged. At home, Johnson faces many of the same challenges that hobbled his predecessor. In Parliament, Johnson’s Conservative Party’s majority has been reduced to just a handful of votes, making the prospect of him passing a new deal through the House of Commons—let alone a no-deal outcome, which British lawmakers have already rejected—slim. Johnson also faces the same looming Brexit deadline: Lawmakers are now on a six-week summer recess, after which there will be just one month of parliamentary time left before the October 31 deadline.