Tuesday 20 August 2019

Editorial: 'Questions will linger long after 'enthusiasm' has gone'

New Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks outside Number 10, Downing Street. Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
New Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks outside Number 10, Downing Street. Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Editorial

Editorial

Hope a new prime minister at No 10 would be a breath of fresh air bringing new thinking and initiative didn't take long to disintegrate.

"Never mind the backstop, the buck stops here," Boris Johnson boomed with gusto, as if the cornerstone of the Withdrawal Agreement were a feather, hanging in the hot summer air of Downing Street to be blown away with rhetoric.

All prime ministers deserve congratulations and a fair wind. But by any reckoning, this was a depressingly glib reference to the bulwark so crucial to protecting the Good Friday Agreement, and peace in these islands.

Mr Johnson's Jaguar did not need to be stopped by protesters on his way to Buckingham Palace, or the politician jeered by an army of hecklers as he delivered his maiden speech, for him to be reminded his country is deeply divided and in dire need of unifying leadership.

Pleasing populist soundbites won't cut it. As Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: "Enthusiasm is not a policy."

On his way to the top Mr Johnson led campaigns against David Cameron, and Theresa May.

Amid all the division and faction-fighting he has now won the right to either lead his country into a new era or remain locked in interminable argument. And in this cauldron there is only one question that matters: does Mr Johnson take his country over a cliff into the unknown depths of a no deal or does he reach out and find agreement?

Pledging a "new and exciting partnership", he offered: "I say to our friends Ireland, and the EU, we can do a deal without checks at the same time as we prepare to face Brussels..."

But many will find it unsettling that even having passed over the threshold of power, he persists with the same vexing delusion: all is there for the taking.

At the same time he offers no plans, no policies or any suggestion as to how Border checks might be avoided, or the single market protected in a disorderly exit.

It was disingenuous to again raise the spectre of Britain being "forced out" in the event of a no deal.

First, Britain chose to leave; second, there is a deal. It was agreed with the other 27 member states and signed off on by his predecessor.

It was also somewhat chilling to hear behind the chummy bonhomie, Mr Johnson serve notice, should no agreement be reached, his government would still "have the extra lubrication of that £39bn".

This is money already owed to the EU. Walking away from commitments and withholding it would make for a shabby end to five decades of honourable membership of the union.

Britain could never be forced out of the EU, just as it could never be forced in. It was always a welcome and valued member, and will be greatly missed from the union. But the compulsion to leave without a deal was championed by none other than Mr Johnson.

Surely he needs no reminding there are neither rewards nor punishments, just consequences.

Irish Independent

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