Opinion

Ireland may give Boris Johnson his first crisis

If ever a political appointment was likely to end in tears, it was the election yesterday of Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson as the new Conservative leader and British prime minister in waiting.

The list of reasons which should have disqualified Mr Johnson from any serious consideration for the post is a lengthy one, but a majority of his party's members have used a curious form of logic to decide that he is the only person who can extract them from the Brexit catastrophe which he did so much to create in the first place.

All the indications are that his period in Downing Street will prove as disastrous as his ill-fated spell as the UK's foreign secretary, and it is quite possible that the first crisis he faces will be over the Irish backstop.

Mr Johnson's lack of insight into Irish affairs has regularly caused concern and it will be remembered that just last year he compared trading arrangements across what is due to become the only land border between the UK and the EU with collecting traffic congestion charges between different London boroughs.

He recently expressed a commitment to dropping the backstop, but even the DUP figures who have lined up in support of him will be acutely aware of his well-publicised u-turn on the same issue a matter of months previously.

It is essential that the Irish government sets out to establish amicable relationships with the new British premier while stressing that changing what is effectively a vital insurance policy on the border which has the full endorsement of the rest of the EU is not an option.

The Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney has a central role to play in this process and he has consistently displayed throughout his Brexit dealings that he is acting in the best interests of citizens from all traditions in both the north and south of Ireland.

Mr Coveney's grasp of detail over EU affairs places him at an entirely different level to Mr Johnson, whose reputation for unpredictability and switching sides will be placed under an intense spotlight in the coming months.

It can be expected that Mr Johnson's term of office will not be dull, but his acceptance speech yesterday had a glib tone which strengthened the widespread belief that he views politics as little more than a game. He may face some cold realities sooner rather than later.

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