Tuesday 17 September 2019

Boris Johnson 'toned down' language after Fermanagh bombing

Terror attack made British prime minister 'a bit friendlier' toward Ireland, says source

British prime minister Boris Johnson. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
British prime minister Boris Johnson. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Philip Ryan and Cormac McQuinn

Government officials believes a dissident republican attack on the Border last week forced Boris Johnson to "tone down" his language about Ireland and the controversial backstop.

A senior Government source close to Tanaiste Simon Coveney claimed the terrorist attack in Fermanagh resulted in the British prime minister rethinking his strategy of attacking the backstop.

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The source made the extraordinary suggestion that Mr Johnson and "the Brits" became "a bit friendlier" toward Ireland as a direct result of the dissident attack which was aimed at killing Northern Irish police.

"The Brits got a bit friendlier to us after the attempt to murder PSNI officers," the source said.

However, a suggestion that dissident activity could influencing British government policy on Brexit is sure to cause alarm within political and security circles.

PSNI deputy chief constable Stephen Martin called for action from political leaders in the wake of the "reckless" attack on his officers.

The bombing was condemned by both Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Mr Johnson during a phone call on the same day as the attack.

However, the source close to the Tanaiste said the Government noted a change in Mr Johnson's comments on Ireland and the backstop in the aftermath of the incident.

During a meeting with Mr Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron noted there are many families still living in Northern Ireland who have relations who died during the Troubles.

"To think of reviving that, because it suits us, would be irresponsible. I consider that Irish peace is European peace. We must not allow it to be threatened by a political and institutional crisis in Britain," Mr Macron said.

Meanwhile, the Government is refusing to say if it was briefed ahead of German chancellor Angela Merkel's comments about finding an alternative to the backstop within the next 30 days.

The British premier seized on Mrs Merkel's comments about finding a solution when they spoke in Germany last week. Her remarks were viewed in Britain as one of the European Union's most senior political figures leaving the door open for negotiation on the backstop.

However, the Taoiseach refused to say if he was told Ms Merkel was due to make comments about resolving the issue within 30 days.

The Taoiseach's spokesperson did confirm that the German chancellor did not contact Mr Varadkar after Mr Johnson suggested her comments were a breakthrough in the negotiations.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin this afternoon described the comments as "dangerous and reckless".

He called on Mr Coveney to disassociate himself from the suggestion that Mr Johnson was influenced by the terrorist attack on the PSNI in Fermanagh.

Mr Martin said: “Any suggestion that dissident terrorist activity would influence the British Prime Minister or indeed British Government policy is wholly unhelpful and only serves to give credence to the criminals who carry out such atrocious acts.

“The explosion which happened near the Cavan to Clones road, a route which crosses the border between the Republic and the North multiple times, was designed to kill and injure. It was fortunate that no one was hurt.

“I would regard these remarks as dangerous and reckless.

"They serve no purpose other than to heighten tensions and create discord.

"These so-called dissidents have murdered and injured long before Brexit was ever heard of. I would like to hear the Tánaiste distance himself from this dangerous narrative”, Mr Martin added.

Mr Coveney's spokesman responded to Mr Martin's remarks saying: "There is absolutely no place for men or women of violence in our societies.

"The Irish and British governments are united to the core on that and it is foolish of anyone to play politics with that for headlines."

Yesterday, Fine Gael senator Neale Richmond criticised Fianna Fail Brexit spokesperson Lisa Chambers, who said Ireland could "never be fully certain" of the EU's solidarity even though the country has been supported to date.

"It is disappointing to see Fianna Fail trying to make political capital again over this very serious situation," Mr Richmond said.

Meanwhile EU Council president Donald Tusk yesterday cautioned the UK prime minister ahead of their first meeting at the G7 summit in France.

"I hope that he will not like to go down in history as 'Mr No Deal,'" Mr Tusk wrote on Twitter, adding "The EU is ready to listen to operational, realistic ideas acceptable to all Member States including Ireland, if and when the UK government is ready to put them on the table."

Mr Johnson responded by saying: "If Donald Tusk doesn't want to go down as 'Mr No Deal Brexit', then I hope that point should be borne in mind by him too."

Mr Johnson is today due to meet with US president Donald Trump for the first time as British prime minister at the G7 summit in Biarritz.

Mr Trump has frequently spoken of his eagerness to seal a post-Brexit free trade deal with Britain, though members of Congress have said they will oppose this if the Good Friday Agreement is threatened by the UK leaving the EU.

Last night a senior EU source poured scorn on the prospects of an early US-UK free trade deal. "The idea of a quick deal between the UK and the US on a free trade agreement is wishful thinking," the source said.

Sunday Independent

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