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Boris Johnson announced as PM: HR community reacts

HR magazine asked HR experts for their thoughts on the new prime minister and what he could mean for Brexit, business and jobs

Boris Johnson has been elected as the new Conservative leader and next UK prime minister. Having long been a favourite to win the leadership race, Johnson beat Jeremy Hunt by securing 92,153 party member votes to his rival’s 46,656.

In his victory speech Johnson said his priorities are to “deliver Brexit, unite the country and defeat Jeremy Corbyn". The appointment was welcomed by Brexiteer Conservative MPs, including Michael Gove and Jacob Rees-Mogg – who said that Johnson had “a clear mandate to deliver Brexit and unite the country".

Less than two hours after the announcement unions and businesses urged Johnson not to leave the EU without a deal on 31 October. While some have dismissed Johnson’s comments that he would be willing to go ahead with a no-deal Brexit as a bluff, the CBI warned that these concerns should be taken seriously because of the risk to business.

Aside from his stance on Brexit, Johnson has been at the centre of controversy several times for making comments deemed racist, misogynistic and homophobic. His column for The Telegraph, in which he compared Muslim women wearing burqas to 'letterboxes', provoked outrage from campaigners. Johnson was investigated over the statement but was found not to have breached the Conservatives’ code of conduct.

With all this in mind, we asked the HR community for its thoughts on the appointment of one of the UK’s most divisive prime ministers to date.

Chadi Moussa, client partner at Let's Talk Talent and former HR director, said that Johnson’s decisions over Brexit will unavoidably affect the UK labour market, workers' rights and beyond:

“Predicting Mr Johnson’s next political move let alone his impact on the HR agenda is risky at best. He will undoubtedly be one of the most unpredictable of politicians to become British prime minister. In short, much will depend on his threat of leaving without a deal on 31 October.

“But if he fails to deliver an orderly Brexit then his promise to crash out of the EU without a deal could have negative and unpredictable consequences for the UK’s labour market, and its ability to trade and attract international investment. All of which have a direct impact on the UK’s ability to attract and retain the best talent.

"More worryingly for HR, the immediate aftermath could spell uncertainty on workers’ rights and the rights of their families, and the significant loss of jobs threatened by many large organisations across various sectors in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

“However, with Boris’ reluctance to take no deal off the table he might end up demonstrating more of the political clout and charisma that is needed to get an orderly Brexit done, which would remove years of uncertainty and provide the UK economy with a much-needed shot in the arm.”

Phil Sproston, country manager UK and Ireland for the Top Employers Institute, warned against judging Johnson too harshly, and said that new leadership could provide an opportunity for change:

"It seems unreasonable to pin too many yet-to-occurr events on him. People should be judged on their record, not an anticipated outcome that people fear may happen.

“What I think will be positive for employers is that this leadership change will be a catalyst, and we will see the end to the current stagnated status quo – something that has created significant challenges and uncertainty for organisations in the UK over the past three years."

Chris Roebuck, honorary visiting professor of transformational leadership at Cass Business School, City University of London, said the prime minister is undoubtedly at a pivotal moment and has an opportunity to prove himself as a competent leader:

“Boris is now in his 'do or die' moment. That’s not just about Brexit that’s also about him as a leader. Can he turn the charismatic leader into the capable leader? Turn the inspiring vision into an inspiring action plan? Bring people together to prove he is more a leader than a demagogue? Be a leader that goes down in history for the right reasons not the wrong ones?

"Based on his previous performance and the situation he has inherited, let's hope it's not all down to him but others who can give wise counsel and steer the ship away from the 31 October iceberg. I’ve said changing from Theresa May to a replacement was like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. Soon we will find out how true that was and, if we do hit the iceberg, it's going to be HR dealing with much of the fallout."

Erik Fjellborg, CEO and founder of Quinyx, commented that HR must be prepared for the increased likelihood of a hard Brexit:

“With Boris Johnson confirmed as the UK’s new prime minister the likelihood of the UK facing a hard Brexit has increased. This has implications for people managers and HR directors in a number of areas, including access to workers. Quinyx research has shown that, through blue-collar job shortages alone, a hard Brexit could cost the UK economy £22 billion a year by 2024, equating to a 70% reduction in economic output from the UK’s manual and service workers.

"To weather the economic challenges that could come with a hard Brexit it is important that employers are now looking at new and creative ways to secure and retain their workforce. A key way of doing this is by offering greater flexibility – something that is on the rise in the UK but 73% of UK workers still face issues with in their current work schedules. Offering flexibility doesn’t have to be hard or expensive to implement, but can help employers meet the demands of their workforce and differentiate themselves from the competition.’’