The world has now had time to process the significance of Boris Johnson’s election win and, as Foreign Editor David Pratt reveals, the global press and political reaction speaks volumes about how the UK is perceived today

It has ranged from the casually curious to the colourful and concerned. I’m speaking of global reaction to the news of Boris Johnson’s election win these past few days.

As the world woke up to a new political landscape across the UK, international press and political responses have proved a telling barometer as to how others see Britain’s place in the world and where it might be heading.

There were, as might be expected, the usual polite formal messages and notes of congratulation from world leaders to the UK’s newly elected prime minister.

From German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu among others, the usual expressions of “closer ties” and “partnerships” were readily forthcoming.

But lurking behind these diplomatic courtesies and protocols lie other more significant clues telling of everything from eager anticipation do downright apprehension. Then there were those of course who simply called it as they saw it.

“Despite a dizzying pile of lies, gaffes, insults to blacks, gays, Muslims, workers scattered in his old articles, Boris Johnson has again sprung up,” observed one Italian journalist in the country’s daily La Repubblica, under a front page headline "Europa bye-bye".

As European reactions went, such a negative take was far from unique. Europe after all had a particular interest in the outcome of this election in which the Brexit issue hung like some political Sword of Damocles over the whole affair.

Harking back to the story of a pre-War UK newspaper headline that is said to have stated, "Fog In Channel: Continent Cut Off", the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter observed that the outcome of the UK election has once again led to fog descending on the Channel, given the still uncertain implications of the next steps in the Brexit process.

While acknowledging Johnson’s win and the apparent breakthrough in the Brexit log jam likely to come with it, many global newspapers and politicians were equally quick to recognise that the saga of Britain’s place and relationship with its European neighbours is far from over.

“It’s no secret that personally I wanted the UK to #remain in the #EU,” wrote Norbert Rottgen, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the German parliament and a member of the Christian Democratic Union party.

“But the British people have decided & we have to accept their choice: With Johnson’s victory #Brexit has become inevitable. Our goal now has to be to keep relations with the UK as close as possible,” Rottgen added in his tweet.

Others were less convinced that Johnson’s win would mean business could be conducted as expected. The Spanish daily El Mundo was at pains to point out that the election result “will not decrease the tensions triggered by former Prime Minister David Cameron”.

“Instead, it has opened new divides between generations, between cities and rural areas, between nationalists and globalists, between pro-Europeans and populists, between people showing solidarity and xenophobic groups,” the paper insisted.

El Mundo went on to say that despite the absolute majority he has achieved, Johnson would never win a popularity contest in the United Kingdom.

“His success can be attributed – beyond those who truly support him – to his blunt message: Get Brexit Done ... Only [Jeremy] Corbyn could lose a popularity contest against Boris Johnson,” the daily went on.

Some Spanish newspapers focused on other issues they saw as vital emerging from the election result, with El Pais concluding that, “the UK is heading for a constitutional clash in Scotland, where the crushing victory of the SNP, which won 48 of 59 seats in the region, will further propel the surge for independence”.

Elsewhere, in its assessment of the election result, El Pais added: “The nationalist awakening is understandable, because Scotland is opposed to Brexit, and most of its citizens feel that the south is forcing them to abandon the EU against their will.”

Scotland and the question of another independence referendum not surprisingly resonates among many within Spain’s political and press community given the country’s current preoccupation with the Catalonia secessionist issue.

This was evidently the case with Spanish lawyer and journalist Joaquim Torra i Pla, known as Quim Torra, who is also a member of the parliament of Catalonia and current president of the Catalan Regional Government.

He took the opportunity in the wake of the UK election result to congratulate the Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Nicola Sturgeon after she said the Scottish government must be allowed to hold another independence referendum.

“Congratulations to the friends of @theSNP and First Minister @NicolaSturgeon for this magnificent result that demonstrates the democratic will for independence and the European commitment of the Scottish people,” Torra tweeted.

Elsewhere in the Spanish-speaking world the Scottish dimension of the UK election also preoccupied many observers.

In far-off Argentina, a country that has just elected a left-wing government under President Alberto Fernandez with support amongst younger voters, the left-wing newspaper Pagina 12 described Scotland as a “complex problem” for Boris Johnson and drew parallels with the Catalan secessionist issue.

“The problem he has is that the Tories lost seven of the 13 seats they held in Scotland. The United Kingdom is split in two: nationalist in Scotland, conservative in England. Given that scenario, there is a constitutional crisis ahead,” an editorial observed, adding that, “apart from the obvious differences, the spectre of Catalujnya hovers over this struggle.”

If the Spanish-speaking world seemed concerned with the Scottish independence issue the French media, who have been following the UK election campaign closely, didn’t take long to draw its own conclusions.

Indeed as early as last month a front-page headline in the popular tabloid Le Parisien read: “Boris Johnson: the liar weakening Europe.”

Pulling no punches, the paper called the UK prime minister “Europe’s bogeyman”, a politician for whom “pretty much everything is either an empty promise, economical with the truth or a downright lie”.

Likewise France’s Le Monde shared a contempt for Johnson’s election slogan while conceding that it had politically paid off for the Tory leader.

“We like it or we hate it, with its false look, its contempt for details and especially for its slogan ‘Get Brexit done’ – simplistic and repeated ad nauseam throughout the campaign of the UK general election. For all that, Boris Johnson has masterfully managed his bet,” concluded the French daily known for its opinion and analysis pieces.

Not everyone of course takes such a negative view of Johnson’s victory. Some Conservative and nationalist leaders in parts of Europe are keen to court the UK prime minister as they see Brexit looming.

In Hungary, the right-wing populist Fidesz party of the prime minister, Viktor Orban, was notably quick to congratulate Johnson, with Katalin Novak, the minister for the family, youth and international affairs, tweeting: “Conservatives have to become stronger in Europe.”

Some might argue that Hungary’s brand of conservatism is the last thing the UK needs right now, given that Orban has all but dismantled democracy and virtually turned the country into a one-party state again.

Elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe there was similar if more muted recognition of Johnson’s win with Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki acknowledging what he saw as a “fundamental change” in the UK’s electorate.

Meanwhile, as befitting the opaqueness that often characterises the Kremlin’s diplomatic response these days, spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia was not sure whether the Tory win would bring “good relations” with Russia, which have been strained in recent years. “I don’t know to what extent such expectations are appropriate,” said the Kremlin spokesman.

By and large – apart from a ringing endorsement of Johnson and Brexit by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the head of the Russian nationalist LDPR party – the UK election doesn’t appear to have been much on the mind of those in Moscow lately, who have pressing political challenges of their own to contend with right now.

Peskov’s remarks, however, highlight another crucial question the election result has thrown up regarding the international stage, the future of UK foreign policy.

As Thomas Raines, Head of the Europe Programme at Chatham House, pointed out last week, “foreign policy may not matter that much to most voters, but these elections matter for foreign policy”.

On the website of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, he highlighted how the election result will be very influential in shaping Britain’s position on the world stage and its approach to international issues. Writing just before the election, Raines contrasted the Labour and Conservative approaches on foreign policy.

“On the one hand, Labour wants to reset and re-orientate Britain’s international role based on human rights and international law. It promises a new internationalism and to end what it glibly calls the 'bomb first, talk later' approach, alongside a human rights-driven trade policy,” he outlined.

By contrast the Conservative manifesto, Raines says, “asserts their pride in Britain’s historical role in the world, followed by a broad set of largely rhetorical commitments to bolster alliances and expand influence”.

He points also to an ambitious free trade agenda with the Tories in power and a more economic and commercially driven foreign policy. And therein of course lies the question of relations with the United States, where the administration of president Donald Trump was predictably quick to react positively to Johnson’s victory.

“Britain and the United States will now be free to strike a massive new Trade Deal after BREXIT,” Trump characteristically tweeted in the early hours of Friday morning.

“This deal has the potential to be far bigger and more lucrative than any deal that could be made with the EU. Celebrate Boris!” wrote the US President.

Some American commentators agreed, seeing Johnson’s election win as an opportunity for the US and UK to move closer economically. Moreover, according to Newsweek magazine, the result in Britain may also lift Trump's spirit ahead of the 2020 election after Johnson’s “unashamedly populistic” campaign.

That said, many of these same commentators from across the pond recognised too that a strong Conservative majority paradoxically increases the chances of a softer Brexit, which could mean Westminster choosing Brussels over Washington despite Trump's overtures to Johnson.

Let’s not forget that leaked UK government document produced by the Labour Party during the election campaign that detailed the talks between British and American trade negotiators on reaching a post-Brexit deal.

If the details in that document are correct, the US trade representative made clear that if the UK committed to the EU customs union and single market then a US-UK free trade agreement would be “a non-starter”.

For now it remains to been seen just what shape relations between the White House and Downing Street will take. It goes without saying, of course, that both Trump and Johnson have much in common, as it seems does their relationship with sections of their respective electorates.

Perhaps no overseas commentator summed this up better in the wake of the election than the renowned New York Times columnist and former foreign editor, Roger Cohen.

“In the depressed provinces of institutionalised precariousness, workers embraced an old Etonian mouthing about unleashed British potential. Not a million miles from blue-collar heartland Democrats migrating to Trump the millionaire and America First demagogy,” wrote Cohen on Friday

“That’s the story of Brexit, a national tragedy. That’s the story of Johnson, the man of no convictions. That’s the story of Trump, who makes puppets of people through manipulation of outrage and disregard for truth,” continued Cohen.

“That’s the story of our times. Johnson gets and fits those times better than most. He’s a natural.”

He’s right of course, and such astute observations are proof yet again that sometimes it really is invaluable to see ourselves as others see us.