There's no escaping the disaster of Boris and Brexit - even on holidays
I'VE been lucky enough to spend the last few days in Tuscany, far away from the Belfast rain, staying in Lucca, an historic, walled in city. The walls remain the dominant feature of the city (sound familiar?) and it is easy to while away a few hours simply wandering around the narrow streets which are mostly traffic free, calling into any of the endless supply of ancient churches, many of which are tiny, a couple of which are huge.
Of course the sunshine is a help, and one day we took the train to Florence where the heat was almost overbearing. Perhaps the sheer number of tourists added to that feeling. Never having been to Florence before, it was a draining effort to try and see as much of the city as possible and we did indeed tour the Uffizi Gallery - having queued for a respectable 40 minutes - the Duomo, the Ponte Vecchio bridge. It is indeed a stunning city, and to my eyes is now build around the tourist trade. We had such a busy day that it was in the end a pleasure to take the train back to sleepy Lucca as night fell.
But even in that calm, serene atmosphere there was no escaping the political madness back home. On our last full day a local shopkeeper picked up on our accents and with genuine bewilderment laid on a series of questions for us.
‘Is Johnson really going to be the Prime Minister?' (no chummy ‘Boris' for this savvy retailer), ‘Will the UK leave the Union?' ‘When will Ireland become one country?'
I'm afraid I had no answers for him, well none that made sense anyway, to me or to him. And when my new friend asked ‘Why does the UK Brexit?', I was stumped.
It is hard to resist the notion that that we are witnessing, and indeed living through, a period of UK/Northern Ireland politics which will be looked back on with genuine puzzlement by future generations, and they will not spare the current political crop the damning criticism they deserve.
Boris Johnson's seemingly unstoppable ascension to Downing Street is not good news for anyone, save himself. It isn't even good news for the Conservative party and he might be the shortest lived UK Prime Minister of them all.
And we can all be sure that Northern Ireland matters not one bit to Johnson, we are not even an after-thought in his unprincipled search for the keys to Downing Street. He has already shown that even within the narrow parameters of the Tory party's arrangement with the DUP, he is quite willing to speak out of both sides of his mouth.
Johnson was more than happy to ham it up at the DUP conference last autumn, saying only and precisely what he thought that audience wanted to hear, and of course they gave him a standing ovation in turn. It was only a few political months later that he voted for the very deal he supposedly resigned his position as Foreign Secretary over, the deal so despised by the DUP audience he had previously regaled. Boris Johnson, like all the other Brexit campaigners, thought nothing of Northern Ireland during the referendum campaign and cared less.
Only the current political arithmetic in Parliament will make his team take notice of the dreary steeples and that context is likely to change in the event of a general election. With Sinn Fein continuing to stay away, and the SDLP and UUP no longer represented in the Commons, it falls solely to the DUP to maximise leverage for Northern Ireland.
Unfortunately while the Confidence & Supply motion freed up some much needed cash for our public services, beyond that there is no strategy being played out other than the Brexit plan, which doesn't really exist, which will only ever harm us economically, socially and politically and which my friend in Lucca asked me forlornly and futilely to explain. What a mess.
I know that Northern Ireland is not Florence or Tuscany but when you visit such places you can get a sense of what we can achieve even on a smaller scale and even without the sunshine. Unfortunately Brexit will only put us on the outside of the EU and whatever makes us even a little more inaccessible to potential visitors and potential investors is bad news.
And it's all still preventable if someone in political leadership, here or in the UK had the foresight to shout ‘STOP!', though sadly that's not going to happen. Brexit, a Boris Johnson premiership, the expressed will of the majority of people in Northern Ireland being ignored…..this convergence of circumstances isn't a disaster waiting to happen, its happening right now.
By the middle of this summer we will have a Prime Minister in place apparently willing to pursue a so called no deal Brexit which will harm this region more than any other, aided and abetted by the compliant and seemingly unquestioning DUP.
To my Lucca shopkeeper friend, I'm sorry I don't have the answers, but I hope to see you again soon.
:: Brendan Mulgrew is managing partner at communications consultancy MW Advocate. @brendanbelfast
:: Next week: Conor Lambe