Tuesday 20 August 2019

'Boris Johnson has coasted into Downing Street on a wave of Brexit bluff'- Northern Ireland politicians divided on Tory leader

Boris Johnson seems utterly determined to leave by October 31, with or without a deal. Photo: REUTERS/Andrew Yates
Boris Johnson seems utterly determined to leave by October 31, with or without a deal. Photo: REUTERS/Andrew Yates
Naomi Long
Colum Eastwood. Photo: GETTY

Rebecca Black

Boris Johnson's appointment as leader of the Conservative Party has sparked a polarised reaction among politicians in Northern Ireland.

The DUP welcomed the announcement that Mr Johnson will become the next prime minister, while the SDLP voiced concern at the potential implications for Brexit.

Arlene Foster's party has been involved in a supply-and-confidence deal with the Conservative Party since the 2017 general election.

Mrs Foster tweeted her congratulations to Mr Johnson, adding: "Look forward to discussing our shared objectives of strengthening the Union, delivering Brexit & restoring devolution."

Northern Ireland is likely to be high on Mr Johnson's agenda when he becomes prime minister, with his government's reliance on the DUP's 10 MPs to give it a working majority in the House of Commons.

The ongoing impasse over Brexit and the implications for the Irish border, as well as the two-and-a-half-year-old collapse of powersharing government at Stormont, will also ensure the region features prominently in his Downing Street in tray.

Earlier Mrs Foster tweeted a photograph of her watching the announcement live at her constituency office in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, describing it as an "historic day".

Ulster Unionist Party leader Robin Swann also congratulated Mr Johnson, but warned the job of prime minister comes with "enormous responsibilities", at what he described as "such a critical time in the history of the United Kingdom".

"The bottom line for the prime minister is that any decisions he takes must be in the best interests of all of the United Kingdom and that includes doing everything possible to avoid a no-deal Brexit," he said.

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Colum Eastwood. Photo: GETTY

The SDLP and Alliance Party expressed concern at Mr Johnson's appointment.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood described it as a "worrying step toward a hard no-deal Brexit and a hard border in Ireland".

"Johnson has coasted into Downing street on a wave of Brexit bluff and bluster," Mr Eastwood said.

"It won't be long until he crashes into the rocky reality that the European Union will not sacrifice the interests of Ireland to appease a man who has lied and slandered its institutions in an effort to secure power.

"All parties in the North must now set our combined efforts to resisting the impulse of this administration to drive off the Brexit cliff edge."

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Naomi Long

Alliance leader Naomi Long said the UK needs a "statesman, not a showman".

"Everyone will have their own opinion on Boris Johnson and his career to date," she said.

"However, it is now vital as he takes up the reins as prime minister, he demonstrates a level of leadership and seriousness which has been lacking to date.

"At such a critical juncture, we need someone who is detail focused and sensitive to the complexity of the challenges ahead.

"In short, we need a statesman, not a showman."

READ MORE: Boris Johnson elected as Conservative leader: What does it mean for Ireland, Brexit and the backstop issue?

Meanwhile, the head of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland has urged Mr Johnson to take a "keen and personal interest" in the ongoing political talks to restore devolved government at Stormont.

Numerous rounds of talks since the collapse of the Assembly in January 2017 have failed to reach agreement.

Dr William Henry has written to Mr Johnson asking him to "actively encourage those involved to go the extra mile".

"The absence of devolved government continues to affect the lives of many of the most vulnerable and marginalised people in our society," Dr Henry said.

"Courageous and compassionate leadership is required to both consolidate, and build upon, the progress already made during the inter-party talks."

READ MORE: DUP welcomes appointment of Boris Johnson and says Brexit and devolution are priorities

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