Business Brexit

Tuesday 15 October 2019

Tory hopefuls claim they'll crack Brexit as 'ever wilder promises' raise fears here

British prime minister hopeful Boris Johnson. Photo: PA
British prime minister hopeful Boris Johnson. Photo: PA
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

At one stage this week it seemed like there was a new contender to be British prime minister on the hour, every hour.

News channels broadcast senior Tory MP after senior Tory MP announcing that they will be able to crack Brexit and stay away from cocaine.

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Key to their success would be a revision of the Irish backstop. Michael Gove proposed a "full stop to the backstop". Jeremy Hunt said he would find the elusive alternative arrangements. Sajid Javid would simply pay us to go away and solve the Border ourselves.

Dublin is well used to observing UK politicians gobbling up airtime with hyperbolic promises - but the latest episode is being watched with heightened concern.

All except one of the contenders, rank outsider Rory Stewart, seem to think they can get a better Brexit deal than Theresa May. And if they can't, some like Boris Johnson believe they should simply just walk away in the interests of the Conservative Party.

Government sources say the frontrunner is the nightmare candidate. They had first-hand experience of Johnson during his time as foreign secretary and it wasn't pretty.

His knowledge of the issues in Ireland was "weak" and his interest in doing real business was "marginal".

Johnson kicked off his campaign by warning his divided Conservative Party that when it comes to Brexit, "delay means defeat".

He praised the strength of the British economy and promised to tackle widespread disillusionment over the protracted process.

To a packed room where some MPs were forced to stand, Johnson drew on his past as a former London mayor to try to persuade Conservatives that only he could take the party to election victory, explaining away some of his well-documented gaffes as his desire to "speak as directly as I can".

"After three years and two missed deadlines, we must leave the EU on October 31," he said as a heckler repeatedly yelled "Boll**ks to Boris" from outside.

"I am not aiming for a no-deal outcome. I don't think that we will end up with any such thing, but it is only responsible to prepare vigorously and seriously for no deal."

The House of Commons yesterday rejected an attempt by opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn to hold a vote blocking no deal on June 25.

It all speaks to what Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said in the Dáil is a "difficult environment".

The Irish Government is keen not to get involved in the battle as it will have to deal very directly with the eventual winner.

But earlier this week, Mr Varadkar did caution the putative prime ministers not to expect a sympathetic ear when they arrive at a European Council meeting later in the summer.

"Theresa May was not a bad negotiator. She had a good team and I believe they got the best deal they could have got, given the limited leverage that a country leaving the European Union has," he said.

In a clear swipe at the hardline Brexiteers in the Conservative Party, he added: "I am a little bit concerned that some people in London seem to think that because the House of Commons failed to ratify that agreement that automatically means they are going to get a better one.

"That is a terrible political miscalculation. I hope that is not the one that is being made across the water. They made some miscalculations along the way."

His comments got little or no traction in the UK, which is too busy focusing on all the domestic bluster to listen to a simple message from Dublin and Brussels.

As Labour leader Brendan Howlin put it, the "ongoing trauma" in Britain is now leading contenders for the top job to make "ever wilder promises about either conducting new negotiations for a new deal with the European Union or, more likely, a hard exit from the European Union on October 31".

Mrs May will attended the EU summit in Brussels next week, but her power has evaporated. Her views on Brexit are now irrelevant.

All eyes are on the contest, which will run until late July.

British Labour MP Keir Stammer said yesterday the leadership race has "become an arms race to promise the most damaging form of Brexit".

If that's what people want, then Dublin believes Johnson will win. But they cling to the hope a middle ground will take hold over the coming weeks.

Irish Independent

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