Tuesday 20 August 2019

Editorial: ''Bright spark' Johnson may end up burning the house down'

'His famously ambiguous relationship with facts will be scrutinised like never before.' Photo: Reuters/Simon Dawson
'His famously ambiguous relationship with facts will be scrutinised like never before.' Photo: Reuters/Simon Dawson


MOP-TOP or none, nobody does "the what you see is what you get" shtick better than Boris Johnson.

But it's what you get the morning after that will be exercising the minds of Europe should Mr Johnson be installed as British prime minister, as seems likely.

In Tory ranks, the consensus ran that there was only one issue that mattered: Brexit.

The only politician who could get it done was Boris. We are about to find out if they were right.

Britain is splintered beyond recognition. The question of whether Mr Johnson can devise a solution and summon the necessary support will be put to the test immediately.

He is a famously bright spark. In these extraordinarily incendiary times, how that spark can be applied without burning the house down - as Simon Coveney warned - will be closely watched.

Mass resignations yesterday suggest not everyone shares Mr Johnson's confidence in himself.

His supporters insist, unlike Theresa May, he feels the red line is British sovereignty. Wresting back control from Europe is the heart of the matter. But his determination to see home a "no deal" should he not get his way could yet exact a terrible price.

Boris the showman dangled helplessly from a zip-wire while waving British flags. Now Dublin and London are about to discover where the performance artist act ends and the politician kicks in.

Consolidating public attention is well and good, but finding common ground in a febrile Westminster will be a sterner challenge.

He has reached the end of the road, as far as rambunctious posturing goes. Taking the UK off its collision course with both the EU and its own parliament is all that matters.

The UK is already in an unprecedented political crisis. It could also be facing a recession, an election, a referendum - or a combination of all at the same time - depending on his responses. He may even face a challenge before he turns the key at No 10, should Labour call a no-confidence vote on Thursday. Things really are that upended.

Leaving without a deal would mean tariffs and customs checks for goods travelling between Britain and the EU, and would rip up thousands of rules drawn up over five decades.

It could also undermine the Good Friday Agreement. Nor will he find that his glib, bluffers' "you scratch my backstop and I'll scratch yours" approach to the North is of much use in the actual cockpit of power. The EU is not for turning on this.

So far, there has been a disconnect between what we have heard and what we have seen on Brexit. Mr Johnson's famously ambiguous relationship with facts will be scrutinised in a way it has not been to date.

The Anglo-Irish relationship is a vital one, but it has been strained by the UK decision to leave the EU. Restoring the national "mojo", as he has pledged, with no parliamentary majority will be a big ask.

We all need to move on, and hopefully we can do so by agreement - and without banging the door on the way out.

Irish Independent

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