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Boris Johnson may prove a headache for Ireland, but a no-deal Brexit is the real nightmare

Past visits by Johnson to Ireland don’t exactly inspire confidence.

Simon Coveney and Boris Johnson speak to the media in late 2017.
Simon Coveney and Boris Johnson speak to the media in late 2017.
Image: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

THE TORY LEADERSHIP contest may look like it’s done and dusted but there is genuinely a ways to go yet.

If a week is a long time in politics, then two is an eternity in Conservative Party politics.

So whether Boris Johnson gets there or not, it won’t be until mid-July that we know for sure.

For the Irish government though, they can be sure that any new leader is likely to present even more headaches for the teetering Brexit process. 

Earlier this week, TheJournal.ie looked at what the various leadership hopefuls have said about the contentious backstop.

Unsurprisingly given that the leadership race has seen a hardening of the Conservative position on Brexit, pretty much all of the main candidates want to see the backstop gone.

Their methods for achieving this boil down to pushing for even more seemingly impossible renegotiation or Sajid Javid’s suggestion that the British government basically pays Ireland to resolve the situation. 

Unsurprisingly to most Brexit followers in Ireland and probably many in the UK too, such an approach is unlikely to get much traction if it is indeed broached in Europe. 

It didn’t work when parliament forced Theresa May to do it and a new leader with the same message is unlikely to see a different result.

As if to illustrate that fact to Conservative members in the upcoming vote, Sky News foreign correspondent Mark Stone put the contenders’ ideas to three EU voices – one MEP and two experts in Brussels institutions. 

(Click here if video doesn’t play)

In a report that got some Brexiteer blood boiling, some of their responses included words like “delusional” and a description of the candidates’ plans as being like “promising unicorns”. 

Asked about Johnson’s threat to withhold the €44 billion divorce bill until an alternative is reached, Belgian MEP Philippe Lamberts said it would shred the UK’s standing “close to zero”. 

For the Irish government, trust in their British counterparts has already been severely dented by Brexit, and not just by by the various ridiculous statements made by British politicians about Ireland. 

A much-discussed article published on Politico last year outlined how negotiations involving the two governments had “poisoned UK-Ireland relations”.  

Mort pertintely given the way the Conservative race is going, there were even reports that Irish officials were told “not to listen” to Boris Johnson when he came here as Foreign Secretary in late 2017. 

The Department of Foreign Affairs strongly rejected the claim, saying it was inaccurate, but Johnson’s actual performance didn’t exactly suggest a harmonious relationship either. 

In the days before the backstop became the main point of contention, Johnson and Minister Simon Coveney were singing from wildly different hymn sheets about the length of a Brexit transition period.  

At one point Johnson even said he “wasn’t aware” of Coveney’s position on a five-year transition, despite it being the widely stated and reported position of the Irish government at the time.

These kind of public moments of discord may seem like a drop in the ocean when it comes to Brexit diplomacy but Johnson becoming Prime Minister would likely make such public tensions more commonplace. 

It’s not just utterances of either genuine or affected buffoonery that will be of concern though. The far more worrying issue is what a Johnson premiership means for Brexit.

Brexit itself places the biggest strain on UK-Ireland relations, regardless of who is in Downing Street, but the spectre of a no-deal scenario becomes even more real if Johnson takes over. 

Johnson has refused to rule out such an outcome and inists the UK is leaving the EU in 31 October. This date more than any in the Conservative leadership race is what the Irish government will be focusing on.

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About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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