Thursday 18 July 2019

Editorial: 'As prime minister, Johnson will have to face reality'

British prime minister hopeful Boris Johnson. Photo: Reuters
British prime minister hopeful Boris Johnson. Photo: Reuters


And then there were two - though most believe there is really only one. Boris Johnson has been the heir apparent for No 10 since the succession stakes opened to take over from Theresa May.

It has to be hoped the debate about how many angels can dance on the head of a Withdrawal Agreement can also end shortly. If the UK crashes out in the hard-ball scenario touted by Mr Johnson, his ascension will mark a bleak day for these islands.

Between now and October 31 there will be opportunities for engagement, but they will have to be grounded in reality.

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Last year, Mr Johnson was ridiculed over remarks made when addressing the challenges Brexit would pose to the transport of goods across the 500km Irish Border. He compared this with travelling between the boroughs of Islington and Camden.

He found himself accused of "stupefying ignorance" of the Troubles, which cost more than 3,000 lives. But Mr Johnson has harnessed controversy all his professional life.

He explained himself once by saying: "In a long career of giving offence, one thing you learn is that sometimes you say things that are taken in the wrong way. And you simply have to repeat yourself gently and explain yourself to try to get over that you meant no offence and it's a shame that offence was taken."

He wishes to be taken seriously, as befits the prime minister of Britain. Yet he has spoken airily of "alternative arrangements" to avoid a hard Border. Candidates can afford to be vague and evasive, prime ministers not so much.

Trust and credibility cannot be separated from familiarity with facts - not as we might wish them to be, but as they are.

Mr Johnson's bumptious dismissal of the dangers attached to a hard Border, and hollow insistence that technology can settle all the issues, was once again shot down yesterday. The European Commission circulated a document which exposed the enormous breadth of areas of north-south co-operation. All could be jeopardised by Brexit.

It detailed a range of cross-Border activity far beyond the technical and fiscal aspects of customs.

It also revealed how both the EU and UK played key roles in engineering the backstop.

A sobering interview with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte also took apart core Brexit promises championed by Tory contenders.

He dismissed the prospect of a re-negotiation of the Withdrawal Agreement, or a time limit on the backstop. The canard that there is a prospect of a renegotiation of the deal before the Brexit deadline of October 31 needs to be formally put to bed.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has also reiterated that Ireland cannot engage in bilateral discussions.

But the EU is open to a rewriting of the political declaration which paves the way for the future trading relationship between the bloc and the UK. So there is scope, once there is realism.

Whatever licence there is for campaigning in poetry, Downing Street demands governing in prose.

Irish Independent

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