Wednesday 21 August 2019

Brexiteer bluster can't hide fact that Boris is winging it

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson at Iveagh House yesterday (Photo: Gerry Mooney)
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson at Iveagh House yesterday (Photo: Gerry Mooney)
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

Like a student of dubious industry and ability who had just done an urgent night's cramming before an exam in the hope it might suffice, Boris immediately rattled off everything he knew about Ireland before it escaped his head.

It was great to be back in Dublin where he had spent "many happy afternoons" in his youth.

He marvelled at the high number of Irish companies listed on the FTSE.

British army horses are sent to be trained on the Curragh before being sent off to combat.

Here ended the catalogue of concrete information Boris Johnson seemed to recall about this country, so he began to wildly wing it.

"In Nigeria, I was lucky enough to drink Guinness," he began. "I won't say it was brewed with the waters of the Liffey but culturally and spiritually it was plainly derived from Ireland, like so many great things around the world."

The faces of civil servants, both Irish and British, signalled that the foreign secretary had blown the exam. In fact, it was abundantly clear both sets politely considered poor Boris to be a bit of a gom.

There was a curious humility about his body language as he entered the Secretary General's ante room in Iveagh House - where hangs a painting gifted by Mussolini and De Valera.

Shoulders sloped, eyes downcast, it took him some time to make eye contact with the vast wall of press gathered there.

He was a jovial character from a PG Wodehouse novel.

Read More: Talks falter as UK gets stuck in 'Borisland'

Perhaps it was affected as a type of Trojan horse tactic but it was not what we had expected from this blustering, sword-waving senior crew member of the not-so-good-ship Brexit.

Normally with these precursory press conferences, you can expect a veneer of bland platitudes, however heated the discussion might become later. Not here though. The divide was startling - and most alarming.

Boris adjusted his tie with a billowing flourish as our own Foreign Minister countered his bluster with firm, sharp facts.

"We'd like to get on with it as fast as possible...get the real conversation going," said Boris - pooh-poohing our island's concerns.

If you listened carefully, you could hear the slight sound of air hissing out of him as Simon Coveney stated that the talks would not be moving on to phase two until the Border conundrum was solved. The challenge was to find "a credible roadmap to get us there", he said.

Meanwhile, Boris took a moment to examine the lovely gilded ceiling rose.

"There is an impasse here," said Simon with such alarming frankness that Boris visibly started.

By the time of his meeting with Micheál Martin a couple of hours later, he had recovered the old Brexiteer bluster.

Over glasses of water in the fourth-floor front bench room, he was "gregarious" and "emphatic" about the referendum, a source said.

"The people have decided," declared Boris.

He had been shocked by the large media presence earlier, he confided - and all the questions had been about Brexit, he marvelled.

Micheál mentioned the probability of smuggling in the event of a hard Border. Again, news to Boris.

"It was information that went in," said the source grimly.

Irish Independent

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