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Boris Johnson says Brexit is a 'massive economic opportunity'

He added it had been treated under his predecessor Theresa May as “an impending adverse weather event”.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets engineering graduates on the site of an under-construction tramline in Stretford, greater Manchester
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets engineering graduates on the site of an under-construction tramline in Stretford, greater Manchester
Image: Ben Stansall via PA Images

BRITISH PRIME MINISTER Boris Johnson has said Brexit was a “massive economic opportunity” but had been treated under his predecessor Theresa May as “an impending adverse weather event”.

In a speech in Manchester where he pledged new investment in Leave-voting areas, Johnson promised to step up negotiations on post-Brexit trade deals and set up free ports to boost the economy.

“When people voted to leave the European Union, they were not just voting against Brussels, they were voting against London too,” he said.

Johnson promised to give more powers to local communities, as well as boost broadband and transport infrastructure in a speech focused on domestic issues.

“Taking back control doesn’t just apply to Westminster regaining sovereignty from the EU, it means our cities and counties and towns becoming more self governing,” he said.

Leaving the EU is a massive economic opportunity to do things we’ve not been allowed to do for decades.

When asked about the prospect of Brexit negotiations, Johnson said he was willing to engage with EU partners but only if the backstop clause was removed from the current divorce agreement struck by May.

The backstop seeks to ensure a free-flowing post-Brexit border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in all eventualities.

“The approach of the UK government is not going to be disengaged or aloof or waiting for them to come to us, we are going to try to solve this problem,” he said.

“We can’t do it as long as that anti-democratic backstop, that backstop that seeks to divide our country, divide the UK, remains in place. We need to get it out and then we can make progress.”

Irish government

Over the past few days, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Simon Coveney have both given statements on the current Brexit state of play following the appointment of Johnson as the British Prime Minister.

Coveney said that Johnson’s comments on Brexit have been “unhelpful”.

“The statements of the British Prime Minister yesterday in the House of Commons were very unhelpful to this process,” Coveney told reporters on Friday.

“He seems to have made a deliberate decision to set Britain on a collision course with the European Union and with Ireland in relation to the Brexit negotiations, and I think only he can answer the question as to why he is doing that.”

DUP MP Ian Paisley Junior has criticised Coveney for his comments. 

Yesterday evening, Paisley Junior said that the Irish government should “dial down the megaphone diplomacy”.

“The Irish government is entirely entitled to speak its mind. However, for the Irish Foreign Minister to parade around Parliament Buildings in Stormont as if it is his seat of government is downright provocative and disrespectful,” Paisley Junior said.

“It is high time Simon Coveney showed some respect for the constitutional situation. If he wants to make inflammatory statements, he should do so in his own country and be fully aware of the damage he is doing.”

Varadkar said yesterday that if Johnson wants a deal, he will have to go back on some of the comments he’s made this week, particularly in relation to the backstop.

Speaking at MacGill’s Summer School in the Glenties, Co Donegal, Leo Varadkar said that he doesn’t know whether there will be a United Ireland in his lifetime, but has said that he thinks that those in Northern Ireland will reconsider their role in the union.

“I honestly don’t know – I do think that more and more people in Northern Ireland, certainly in the event of a no deal, will come to question the union,” Varadkar said.

‘Absolutely’ rules out election

Meanwhile, Johnson has also tried to dampen speculation he could call an early election.

Johnson has promised to take Britain out of the EU by the latest deadline of 31 October – deal or no deal.

But he has focused on domestic priorities in his first few days in office, including a pledge yesterday to reverse drastic cuts to the police force made under May.

Commentators have speculated that he could be preparing to call a general election, hoping to regain the Conservative majority that May lost at the polls in 2017.

Johnson yesterday “absolutely” ruled out initiating such a poll before Britain leaves the bloc.

“The British people voted in 2015, in 2016, in 2017,” he said during a visit to the central English city of Birmingham.

“What they want us to do is deliver on their mandate, come out of the EU on October 31.

They don’t want another electoral event, they don’t want a referendum, they don’t want a general election.

However, Britons could be headed to the polls if MPs bring down Johnson’s new government in a no confidence vote in order to try and prevent a no-deal Brexit from happening.

Britain voted 52% in favour of leaving the EU in a shock 2016 referendum .

Johnson said today’s speech intended to “set out his vision to rebalance power, growth and productivity across the UK”.

May also came to power promising to fight Britain’s “burning injustices”. However, her domestic agenda was overwhelmed by Brexit negotiations and her failed attempts to persuade parliament to vote in favour of her exit deal.

Includes reporting by Gráinne Ní Aodha, Órla Ryan and © AFP 2019  

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