Northern Ireland news

Be afraid – it's Boris in No 10 and Brexit on the horizon

Boris Johnson won't be the first British politician with little knowledge of Ireland but that could be a dangerous thing. Political correspondent John Manley ponders his record to date.

 Even more than his mendacity and clownish ineptitude, Boris is defined by his shameless ruthless and successful lust for power. Ian Knox 23/07/2019

LIKE many of his pronouncements on a variety of issues, Boris Johnson's views on Ireland have been a mix of ill-informed rhetoric, falsehoods and pie-in-the-sky thinking.

Nothing arguably illustrates his shtick better than his support for a bridge linking Northern Ireland and Scotland, as voiced when he was guest speaker at the DUP annual conference last autumn. We can assume his backing for this harebrained plan was part of a strategy to get his audience onside – a tactic not exclusive to Mr Johnson but one he appears to employ with greater regularity than most politicians.

With the possible exception of the so-called Boris Buses – Routemaster buses for London commissioned while he was mayor and manufactured in Ballymena by Wrightbus – the MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip historically has few ties to Ireland – north or south. The place didn't really figure on his radar until the run-up to 2016's EU referendum.

While mayor of London, however, he did manage to insult the city's Irish community, telling the New Statesman magazine in 2012 that what made him angry was "lefty crap" like "spending £20,000 on a dinner at the Dorchester for Sinn Féin", a reference to the annual St Patrick’s Day gala dinner, a black tie event cancelled by his office in 2009 to save money.

He later apologised after it transpired the event was self-financing and included guests from various Irish backgrounds, including chef Richard Corrigan and Bob Geldof.

Insults and offensive language are part of the Boris package, it seems, from referring black people as "piccaninnies" to saying Muslim women wearing the burka "look like letter boxes"

In recent days, it's been claimed that while a member of the cabinet, the prime minister in waiting asked of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: “Why isn’t he called Murphy like all the rest of them?”.

The comments are among a series of insults about EU leaders documented in the Financial Times. They also included his musings about whether Chancellor Angela Merkel had served in East Germany's Stasi secret police, while describing French President Emmanuel Macron as a "jumped-up Napoleon" and calling his countrymen "turds".

In addition to name-calling, the Oxford-educated Mr Johnson is prone to making assertions that have little basis in fact.

Ahead of the EU referendum, as he campaigned for Brexit, he was of the opinion that the UK's departure from the EU meant arrangements on the Irish border would be "absolutely unchanged".

"There's been a free travel area between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland for, I think, getting on for 100 years," he said, echoing the line adopted by then secretary of state Theresa Villiers that focused on the movement of people rather than trade.

Also at this time he was arguing that Northern Ireland had everything to gain from leaving the EU. Brexit would be good news for fisheries and farming and subsidies "would be better tailored to their needs".

In the aftermath of the referendum and David Cameron's resignation, new prime minister Theresa May appointed him foreign secretary. It was an odd choice, some thought – not least

among them the then Alliance deputy leader Naomi Long, who suggested Mr Johnson had cultivated an image of himself as a "bumbling clown" to avoid responsibility for "offensive" behaviour.

On Brexit and the border, his language was just fatuous, ludicrously comparing the frontier between the north and the Republic to the boundary between two London boroughs, where there was no infrastructure, yet traffic charges were collected.

More recently, as part of his manoeuvrings to gain leadership of the Tory party, the 55-year-old old Etonian has sought to stress his hard Brexit credentials. However, he's not always been consistent, voting for Mrs May’s withdrawal agreement in March after reaching the "sad conclusion" that it is the only way to ensure the UK actually left the EU.

He'd previously attacked the draft deal negotiated with the EU in his Daily Telegraph column, describing it in September last year as a “suicide vest around the British constitution”.

Since the leadership race began proper, his rhetoric has become more resolute.

Last week he said the draft deal needed to be "junked" if Brussels refused to be flexible on its contents and that the UK must be ready to come out "on different terms". His stance on the backstop has hardened also, ruling out a time limit or a unilateral exit clause, making the potential for a no-deal Brexit more likely.

Beyond this, his Brexit strategy is mainly bluster and bluff, claiming he'll secure a better deal by treating the negotiations like a game of chicken, right up to October 31. After his meeting with DUP leader Arlene Foster a fortnight ago, he said would not tolerate any deal “that sees Northern Ireland out of the UK’s customs territory” – though there was no mention of regulatory alignment. Some suspect he'd be happy to sell-out the DUP if it meant achieving 'Brino' – Brexit in name only .

Away from Brexit, the Tory leader to be has pledged to end the"unfair" prosecutions of British army veterans who served in Northern Ireland – yet another example of how Boris Johnson is willing to circumvent reality if the opinion is popular enough.

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