The freshly elected prime minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson, made his first foreign visit as his country’s duly elected head of the government to Estonia.
Even though Johnson has been the prime minister of the UK since 24 July, up until the general election win on 12 December, he was serving as an unelected premier. The landslide victory of the Conservative Party – that Johnson is the leader of – mid-December secured his post and gave him the people’s mandate.
Johnson visited the Tapa military camp in Estonia where he met with his Estonian counterpart, Jüri Ratas, and served Christmas lunch to the 850 British soldiers based in the camp – the UK’s largest operational deployment in Europe.
According to the UK government, Johnson thanked Ratas for the support and hospitality Estonia has shown in hosting British armed forces personnel at the Tapa military base.
The UK is unconditionally committed to Estonia’s security
“The leaders discussed the close partnership between the UK and Estonia, in particular our joint security and defence cooperation,” the UK government said in a statement. Johnson “reaffirmed the UK’s unconditional commitment to Estonia’s regional security through NATO”.
According to the Estonian government, Ratas told his UK colleague that the UK “should become a very special partner and a close ally to the EU after Brexit, and that is something we are all working towards. We wish to have the closest possible relationship in all areas, especially in the fields of foreign, defence, and security policy, as well as economics and education.”
The prime ministers also discussed digital and cyber cooperation. “We see untapped opportunities here and want to develop this collaboration further. I also invited prime minister Johnson to the [Tallinn] digital summit next autumn and to the meeting of the prime ministers of Nordic and Baltic countries and Ireland before that to jointly discuss cooperation in finding solutions in the fields of e-health and European health data management,” Ratas said in a statement.
“All for one and one for all”
In a speech Johnson gave to the UK troops stationed in Tapa, he reiterated the UK’s commitment to the alliance and wished the soldiers merry Christmas.
“My mission is very simple, it is to say thank you. Because of course in the next few days everybody in our country is going to spend Christmas with their families, and you are going to be here. A long way away, in a pretty cold place, at Christmas, in the Baltic states in Estonia.”
“Quite literally what you are doing is showing that NATO works, and that NATO is an alliance to which we in this country are absolutely committed,” he noted.
Johnson said that the idea of NATO was “very, very simple. It’s all for one and one for all. And that means that when our Estonian friends want a commitment by the British Army, we make that commitment with this Enhanced Forward Presence.”
A landslide victory and commitment to Brexit
“And it is an incredible thing for me to come to Estonia and think that when I was a kid, when I was your age, actually, Estonia was part of the Soviet Union and we are now here helping to protect Estonia and to guarantee its security,” he added. “It is a fantastic thing, it is a deeply moving thing for someone of my generation. Thank you all very much for what you are doing. Happy Christmas.”
The 55-year-old Johnson has been the leader of the Conservative Party since 23 July 2019. He has previously served as the mayor of London, a member of the parliament and the foreign minister of the UK. A long-time advocate for the British departure from the European Union, he was unable to secure enough votes in the parliament to keep the previous deadlines for Brexit, set by the EU.
After the Conservative Party won the 12 December snap election by gaining 48 additional seats in the parliament and securing a majority of 365 – the largest Conservative majority since 1987 – on 20 December, the UK’s legislative body voted by a wide margin to advance Johnson’s Brexit plan, paving the way for the country to leave the European Union in January 2020.
Cover: Boris Johnson chatting with British troops stationed in Tapa, Estonia, on 21 December 2019. Photos courtesy of the Estonian Defence Forces.