Northern Ireland news

Analysis: We could really be in trouble with Boris as prime minister

Boris Johnson's acceptance speech sounded like it had been drafted minutes beforehand. Picture by Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

IF Boris Johnson started as he means to go on then we really are in trouble.

An acceptance speech that he's waited years to make sounded like it had been drafted minutes beforehand, suggesting policy too will be developed on the hoof as circumstances dictate.

He told the audience he plans to "energise the country" and deliver Brexit by October 31.

If he sticks to that deadline there's no doubt that many throughout Britain and beyond will indeed be exercised – nowhere more so than on this side of the Irish Sea, where a no deal would likely mean economic catastrophe and major political upheaval across the island.

Yet given the former foreign secretary's unpredictability, we are unable to take what he says at face value.

The gung-ho rhetoric that delivered a convincing result in the Tory leadership election may quickly evaporate and be replaced with something more pragmatic. As the maxim goes: 'Campaign in poetry, govern in prose'.

However, the problem with adopting a more realistic and measured approach is that he'll likely find himself stuck in the same quandary that doomed Theresa May.

The EU has signalled that it will not reopen the withdrawal agreement, though it appears ready to engage with the new British prime minister in an effort to create some wriggle room for him.

But there's more chance of a road link between Larne and Stranraer than there is of Brussels dumping the backstop that will keep the border open in the event of future trade negotiations coming to nothing.

The Dublin government will be diplomatic over the coming days, ensuring it doesn't enflame an already unsettled situation, but Michel Barnier has their back and the resoluteness of the past three years isn't going to suddenly disintegrate.

But Boris will be buoyed by an emphatic result that reflects strong backing from Conservative Party grassroots, who believe he's best placed to deliver victory at the polls.

Yet their faith is far stronger than that of many senior Tories, as the slew of cabinet resginations over recent days has shown.

It's as if the membership's desire to keep Jeremy Corbyn out of Downing Street has led to the loss of all reason – they'll happily be led by a clown, just as long he's a Tory clown.

The test of their thesis may come sooner than they'd hoped as Westminster seeks to thwart no deal by any means available.

For the DUP, the Conservatives' silent partners in government, the choice is to recklessly hitch their wagon to the no deal train and risk being maligned at home or to abandon the blinkered 'no border in the Irish Sea' stance with which the party previously painted itself into a corner.

Unionism too often thinks in the short term but would do so at its peril this time. Sammy Wilson yesterday characterised the new Tory leader as having a "bit more steel in his negotiating stance" than his predecessor but the man who will be installed in No 10 today is also widely regarded as far less sincere than Mrs May.

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