Boris Johnson’s decision to seek the suspension of parliament in order to pursue a no-deal Brexit is a salutary reminder to the Irish Government that it can control only what it can control, ie what is within its sphere of influence.
The British prime minister clearly isn’t. That is hardly surprising since Johnson takes little note of those who support his views, let alone those who oppose them.
So far, the reaction to him from the Irish Government has been one of bemused detachment but, in order to more fully understand Johnson, both Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney, in particular, need to know where he is coming from, figuratively and otherwise.
A classical scholar turned popular entertainer and a self-proclaimed liberal, one-nation Tory, he grew up the eldest of four children in the hugely competitive Johnson family. They were a bit like the Kennedys, with every member expected not just to succeed but to excel.
According to his sister Rachel, as a child, when anyone asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, he would answer: “world king”. He’s getting close. His attempts to suspend parliament aligns him historically with that of Charles I who suspended parliament three times — although he lost his head consequently.
A number of high-profile figures, including former prime minister John Major, have threatened to go to the courts to stop the suspension.
Major has little grounds to object, however, as he prorogued parliament in 1997 to avoid a debate on the cash-for-questions scandal.
The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, has also vented his fury, calling the move a “constitutional outrage” but he is also on shaky ground as he proposed doing the same thing when Theresa May came unstuck with her Brexit deal.
Given that such powerful and influential politicians in Britain appear powerless to stop Boris Johnson, it is unlikely that either the Taoiseach or the foreign minister will be able to sway him. Better, therefore, that they step up efforts to limit the fallout from a no-deal Brexit.
That includes giving assistance to businesses, particularly those in the agriculture sector, to cope with what looks increasingly like a no-deal scenario.
The British-Irish Chamber of Commerce has called on the Government to set up a €1bn Brexit Response Fund to help Irish businesses withstand a “Brexit shock”. That is something the Government can control.
Another is the October budget. Acting Central Bankgovernor Sharon Donnery has warned of the need for fiscal prudence in the face of growing risks posed by a disorderly Brexit, along with international trade tensions and a global economic downturn.
The DUP has welcomed the suspension but, given Johnson’s determination to have his own way, Arlene Foster and her party should also take note and realise that the British prime minister is no particular friend of theirs.
Johnson’s ideology aligns with the DUP’s at present but that may not always be the case. The DUP should also recognise that they have more friends south of the Border than they imagine.