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Boris Johnson a fantastical figure as prime minister

Boris Johnson's claim that a no-deal Brexit presents a great economic opportunity has been met with a cool response. Picture by Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

SEVEN days after he assumed office, there is still something fantastical about the fact that Boris Johnson is indeed British prime minister.

Beyond the two-thirds of the members of the Conservative Party who backed him to succeed the hapless Theresa May, Mr Johnson was always going to face a Herculean challenge to be taken seriously.

He may have been convincingly entertaining on the after-dinner speaking circuit, but a great many people still regard him as a stupefyingly improbable figure to helm 10 Downing Street as the United Kingdom navigates an existential crisis stirred up by the Brexit fantasy.

Mr Johnson, who spearheaded the Leave campaign, has spent his first week in office assembling a cabinet committed to a no-deal Brexit and insisting that the withdrawal agreement agreed by Mrs May and the European Union is beyond resuscitation.

If the EU wants to talk and prevent the UK leaving without a deal on October 31, then it must shift its position and commit to reopening the withdrawal agreement and ditching the backstop, says Mr Johnson.

Brussels, for its part, has said it considers the agreement closed and will not revisit it.

To persuade the EU that he is serious about leaving without an agreement - though it remains unclear how this will get through Parliament - Mr Johnson has enthusiastically embarked on no-deal planning.

This has included visits to Scotland and Wales, with Northern Ireland on the itinerary today, and rather feeble assurances that there is nothing to fear.

The north is in a particularly vulnerable position. A share of £300 million, to be divided between Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, has been promised.

That is undoubtedly welcome but will not assuage concerns around just how catastrophic a no-deal Brexit will be for the economy.

The agriculture and food industries will face particular difficulties.

Welsh farmers were deeply unconvinced yesterday by Mr Johnson's promises of lucrative new trade deals, and their counterparts in Northern Ireland will feel the same.

Unapologetically backing the Leave campaign means that the DUP is inextricably linked to whatever Mr Johnson does next.

None of this improves the prospects for the return of devolution, when it is needed more than ever.

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