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A young Boris Johnson warned Irish officials about John Major's Peace Process plans in 1995

Johnson said that Major would come close to “stalling” the process.

Image: PA Images/Photojoiner

BACK WHEN HE was a mere political correspondent and not UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson warned Irish diplomats that John Major would come close to ‘stalling’ the Northern Ireland peace process.

Newly released State Papers from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) reveal details of a lunch Johnson had with Irish Embassy press officer Colin Wrafter in London in April 1995.  

In a memo of the meeting sent to senior DFA officials, Johnson’s political views are described as “Thatcherite and Eurosceptic”. 

The meeting took place the year after initial ceasefires were declared by republican and loyalist paramilitaries but as moves towards a lasting agreement began to stall.  

A British government condition that the IRA decommission weapons before Sinn Féin could enter all-party talks led to the eventual collapse of its ceasefire in early 1996 and the IRA’s bomb attack at Canary Wharf in London. 

Decommissioning was one of the central stumbling blocks of the process for a decade after that, with the IRA’s last remaining weapons put beyond use in 2005

A the time of the meeting in question the British government had initiated ministerial contact with Sinn Féin but Johnson told Wrafter that the Irish government shouldn’t expect the process to move quickly. 

In an echo of what Johnson himself is now experiencing, he said that Major’s problem was with Tory backbenchers. 

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“Boris made one remark of which you may wish to be aware: the Prime Minister is determined to proceed with the peace process at a pace just a little on the right side of ‘stalling’,” Wrafter wrote to his superiors in Dublin

In this he (Johnson) was reflecting a view widely held by political journalists in Westminster. While the Prime Minister wants history to acknowledge his role in helping to bring about peace in the North he is determined to move cautiously in order to avoid the risk of exposing himself to Tory backbench unrest or outright Unionist opposition.

Johnson is now a successor to Major as a Tory resident of 10 Downing Street but there is certainly no love lost between the pair. 

While Johnson may have steered the UK out of the EU, Major was on the pro-EU wing of his party and in 2019 joined a legal action against Johnson’s controversial decision to prorogue parliament.

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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