Friday 20 September 2019

Boris Johnson has been and gone - here are five things we learned from his Brexit visit

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets with Ireland's Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Leo Varadkar in Dublin, Ireland, September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Phil Noble
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets with Ireland's Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Leo Varadkar in Dublin, Ireland, September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Phil Noble
John Downing

John Downing

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has paid a flying visit to Dublin to meet Taoiseach Leo Varadkar about Brexit.

John Downing looks at what – if anything – we have learned from this.

1. GOOD VIBES:

Almost seven weeks after his appointment as UK PM this meeting was well overdue.  And it comes amid strained relations between London and Dublin over Brexit with the Taoiseach being pilloried by sections of the English media.

So, it was good that this meeting finally happened. It was even better that the tone was friendly and positive.

As Johnson himself said, the interlinked and longstanding UK-Irish relationship is the most intricate and intense such relationship anywhere in the world. Both countries and peoples need a friendly relationship.

2. BUT NOTHING NEW:

A good and positive tone is helpful – but not enough. Boris Johnson has been challenged to table proposals to break the deadlock. But he has not done any such thing.

At this meeting he made vague mention of trying to cut through red tape to prevent a return of the Border in Ireland.

He effectively stressed that if the Border returns it will not be London’s doing. But talks of remote border checks, trusted trader schemes, and an island of Ireland zone for agri-food products was very limited. 

These only scratch the surface of what is needed.

3. THE DUP’s SHADOW:

Any special treatment of Northern Ireland for Brexit must deal with the suspicions of the Democratic Unionist Party’s 10 MPs still propping up Mr Johnson’s government. They insist the North’s Brexit terms must be identical to those of England, Scotland and Wales to protect the union of the United Kingdom.

Mr Johnson is above all in election mode and hoping he can lengthen and strengthen his grip of political power. He may need the DUP soon again.

4. BORIS STILL DOES NOT GET IT:

The new UK Prime Minister in practice admitted he was last on the Border in Ireland before the IRA ceasefires 25 years ago. For all his talk about understanding the need to "find solutions" he still insists the border backstop must go before he can agree an EU-UK Brexit deal.

Mr Johnson’s talk of "dying in a ditch" rather than seeking a Brexit extension beyond the October 31 deadline is rather thoughtless. 

Many of the 3,600 victims who died violently in the North’s Troubles did actually die in a ditch.

The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was right to stand his ground. He insisted the border backstop must stand – unless London comes up with a workable alternative.

5. CHAOS CONTINUES:

The UK PM left Dublin to return to the political chaos at the Westminster parliament. His spokesperson has since confirmed that the UK government will be prorogued at close of business today until the Queen's Speech on October 14. There are just 51 days left to the Brexit deadline on which a no-deal crash-out will happen if nothing else is put in place.

Mr Johnson struck an upbeat tone – insisting he was "undaunted" by being snookered in parliament.  MPs have legislated obliging him to seek an extension and they have denied him the necessary permission to hold a snap election.

But Mr Johnson is electioneering and conscious of opinion polls showing his party is in the lead despite everything.  His sole mission is about uniting the UK Brexit vote which still accounts for half the electorate.

Online Editors

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