Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he wants to hear what incoming British prime minister Boris Johnson has to say about how he intends avoiding a hard Brexit.
While opposition leaders here said Mr Johnson’s election raises “enormous fears for Ireland”, Mr Varadkar said he wants to learn more about how Mr Johnson intends securing Brexit on the basis of an agreed exit, as opposed to a disorderly crash out.
Mr Varadkar was speaking after Mr Johnson was elected leader of the Conservative Party by a margin of 2:1 over his opponent Jeremy Hunt and will formally take over as prime minister this afternoon.
Within minutes of the result becoming clear, EU and Irish leaders congratulated him on his election but restated the position that the withdrawal agreement cannot be reopened.
The Taoiseach said he expects Mr Johnson to travel to Dublin “next week or the week after” to hold their first bilateral meeting to see what can be done to prevent chaos ahead of the Brexit deadline of October 31 and also to seek progress on restoring the Stormont Assembly.
“I think hear what he has to say, to learn more about what detailed proposals he has to secure Brexit with a deal, restore the proper functioning of the Good Friday Agreement and develop bilateral relations,” he told the Irish Examiner.
Mr Johnson is expected to appoint his cabinet today once Mrs May departs from office and he has held an audience with Queen Elizabeth II in Buckingham Palace. There was a decidedly mixed reaction in Dublin to Mr Johnson’s election.
Tánaiste Simon Coveney said ministers are prepared to work “constructively” with the new British prime minister through the “challenges” of Brexit.
However, among opposition parties the warnings were more stark, with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin telling reporters at the MacGill summer school in Co Donegal last night that Mr Johnson’s tenure raises “enormous fears” for Ireland.
“The accession of Boris Johnson to Downing Street quite rightly raises enormous fears for the future of relations between the governments and also London’s policy towards Northern Ireland,” said Mr Martin.
“Anyone in Dublin who met him during his time as foreign secretary will tell you the many ways in which he failed to show the slightest level of understanding about the operations of the Good Friday agreement or the deep problems raised by Brexit.”
Labour leader Brendan Howlin was equally clear in his concerns, saying Mr Varadkar must not blink on Brexit in his meeting with Mr Johnson and has just “100 days to hold firm on the border backstop”.
Speaking to reporters at Leinster House, Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane said there are legitimate fears over Mr Johnson’s tenure.
“I don’t think it’s good for British politics, and it certainly won’t be good for Ireland,” said Mr Cullinane.
DUP leader Arlene Foster confirmed her party’s confidence and supply deal with the Conservative Party will undergo a scheduled review under new leader Boris Johnson. She said:
I have spoken with Boris Johnson and congratulated him on becoming leader of the Conservative Party
“We discussed our shared objectives of strengthening every part of the union, ensuring the 2016 referendum result is implemented and seeing devolution restored in Northern Ireland.
“The confidence and supply agreement between the Conservative Party and the Democratic Unionist Party remains. That agreement included a review between each parliamentary session.
“This will take place over the coming weeks and will explore the policy priorities of both parties for the next parliamentary session.
Mr Hunt said Mr Johnson would make a “great prime minister” and conceded he had had a “big mountain to climb” in the contest.
“I never felt it was too much of an uphill struggle but I always knew that it was going to be a big mountain to climb,” the foreign secretary told the BBC.
“I think Boris fought a very, very good campaign. It was a very clear campaign, his messages were absolutely clear and I think, as I say, he will now be a great prime minister.”
Mr Johnson’s share of the vote, 66.4%, is slightly lower than the share won by David Cameron in the 2005 Conservative leadership election (67.6%). He won with 92,153 votes compared to Mr Hunt’s 46,656.