Boris Johnson’s appointment gets mixed reaction from Irish politicians

Boris Johnson’s appointment gets mixed reaction from Irish politicians

Some Irish politicians have been congratulating Boris Johnson following his election victory today.

Mr Johnson beat out rival Jeremy Hunt to become the new leader of the Conservative Party and the next British Prime Minister.

Theresa May will tender her resignation to the British Queen after taking Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons tomorrow afternoon for the final time.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar posted on social media: “Congratulations to Boris Johnson on his election as party leader. Look forward to an early engagement on Brexit, Northern Ireland and bilateral relations.”

Tánaiste Simon Coveney congratulated Mr Johnson and said that Ireland will work constructively with him and the incoming UK government to "maintain and strengthen" the relationship between Britain and Ireland.

Speaking on RTÉ radio's News at One, Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton said that it will take all of Mr Johnson's "capacity for originality to sort this (Brexit) out."

"Avoiding a hard border is our priority. We look forward to engaging with Mr Johnson. Leo will be looking forward to that opportunity."

However, opposition politicians took a different stance.

Sinn Féin Brexit spokesman David Cullinane says it came as no surprise that Boris Johnson will become British prime minister, but called on theGovernment to hold steadfast in Brexit negotiations.

“We’d be very concerned that Boris is not going to make any serious effort to reach any kind of accommodation with the European Union,” he said.

He seems to believe the Irish government and the European Commission is going to blink on these matters, I don’t think there’s any appetite for any changes to the Withdrawal Agreement, but it remains to be seen what will happen.

“The chances of a no-deal Brexit have been increasing, because it was quite obvious that while there is no appetite in the House of Commons for no deal, there’s no sense what they’re in favour of,” Mr Cullinane added.

“Boris has been talking up a hard crash, in some respects encouraging a hard crash, that would be a disaster for Britain, a disaster for Ireland, I don’t see any good in that for anybody, but again – that’s outside our control, what we can do is that we hold the Irish government to account and they hold firm.”

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett has said that the elevation of Boris Johnson to leader of the Tory Party and thus prime minister of the United Kingdom presents a “clear and present danger to Ireland” and “brings the prospect of no-deal and the imposition of a north-south border much closer”.

He called Mr Johnson a “genuine danger” because of his “callous disregard for the impact of no-deal on Ireland, his allegiance to Donald Trump, his disgraceful comments about UK soldiers’ actions on Bloody Sunday and his extreme right-wing views on just about every issue”.

He added that Mr Coveney needed to tell Boris Johnson “in the clearest possible terms that a hard border between the north and south of this country is simply not an option”.

Reacting to Mr Johnson's election Labour Party spokesperson on Foreign Affairs Brendan Howlin called on Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to hold firm on the legal protections for Ireland's open border with Northern Ireland.

"Boris Johnson has said that he wants the UK to leave the European Union in just 100 days from now. After three difficult years, the withdrawal agreement was negotiated and the EU has made it clear that it cannot be reopened," said Deputy Howlin.

"The legal protections to ensure Ireland’s open border, the backstop, must be respected as a necessary part of that agreement.

The new UK government is likely to apply maximum pressure on Ireland to make a concession, and some EU leaders may panic at the prospect of the UK leaving without a deal.

"However, no country will be as negatively affected as Ireland, and the Government must hold firm on the backstop to protect our long-term interests even if the short-term impact is a major negative shock to the economy."

Mr Howlin warned that if the Taoiseach were to compromise on the border it could "reinforce division on this island for generations to come".

He said that the Government should advocate for patience among EU leaders to allow the British government to "come to terms with reality".

Mr Johnson's appointment has sparked a polarised reaction among politicians in the North.

The DUP welcomed the announcement while the SDLP voiced concern at the potential implications for Brexit.

Arlene Foster’s party has been involved in a supply and confidence deal with the Conservative Party since the 2017 general election.

Mrs Foster tweeted her congratulations to Mr Johnson, adding: “Look forward to discussing our shared objectives of strengthening the Union, delivering Brexit & restoring devolution.”

Northern Ireland is likely to be high on Mr Johnson’s agenda when he becomes British prime minister, with his government’s reliance on the DUP’s ten MPs to give it a working majority in the House of Commons.

The ongoing impasse over Brexit and the implications for the Irish border, as well as the two-and-a-half-year-old collapse of powersharing government at Stormont, will also ensure the region features prominently in his Downing Street in tray.

Earlier Mrs Foster tweeted a photograph of her watching the announcement live at her constituency office in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, describing it as a “historic day”.

Ulster Unionist Party leader Robin Swann also congratulated Mr Johnson, but warned the job of British prime minister comes with “enormous responsibilities”, at what he described as “such a critical time in the history of the United Kingdom”.

“The bottom line for the prime minister is that any decisions he takes must be in the best interests of all of the United Kingdom and that includes doing everything possible to avoid a no-deal Brexit,” he said.

The SDLP and Alliance Party expressed concern at Mr Johnson’s appointment.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood described it as a “worrying step toward a hard no-deal Brexit and a hard border in Ireland”.

“Johnson has coasted into Downing street on a wave of Brexit bluff and bluster,” Mr Eastwood said.

It won’t be long until he crashes into the rocky reality that the European Union will not sacrifice the interests of Ireland to appease a man who has lied and slandered its institutions in an effort to secure power.

“All parties in the North must now set our combined efforts to resisting the impulse of this administration to drive off the Brexit cliff edge.”

Alliance leader Naomi Long said the UK needs a “statesman, not a showman”.

“Everyone will have their own opinion on Boris Johnson and his career to date,” she said.

“However, it is now vital as he takes up the reins as prime minister, he demonstrates a level of leadership and seriousness which has been lacking to date.

“At such a critical juncture, we need someone who is detail focused and sensitive to the complexity of the challenges ahead.

“In short, we need a statesman, not a showman.”

Meanwhile, the head of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland has urged Mr Johnson to take a “keen and personal interest” in the ongoing political talks to restore devolved government at Stormont.

Numerous rounds of talks since the collapse of the Assembly in January 2017 have failed to reach agreement.

Dr William Henry has written to Mr Johnson asking him to “actively encourage those involved to go the extra mile”.

“The absence of devolved government continues to affect the lives of many of the most vulnerable and marginalised people in our society,” Dr Henry said.

“Courageous and compassionate leadership is required to both consolidate, and build upon, the progress already made during the inter-party talks.”

This story was updated at 4.55pm.

- Additional reporting by Press Association

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