Prime minister Boris Johnston: Fantasists are running out of road

In the old gods’ time, be they Celt or Pict, had an Irishman won the British Open at the start of the most important week in Anglo-Irish relations since the Good Friday Agreement was settled, it would have been seen as a portentous nudge that could hardly be ignored without risking heaven’s wrath.

Prime minister Boris Johnston: Fantasists are running out of road

In the old gods’ time, be they Celt or Pict, had an Irishman won the British Open at the start of the most important week in Anglo-Irish relations since the Good Friday Agreement was settled, it would have been seen as a portentous nudge that could hardly be ignored without risking heaven’s wrath.

That Shane Lowry’s magnificent, uplifting achievement was realised on the part of this island where Celt and Pict live cheek-by-jowl seems, even if in a Game of Thrones sort of way, important too. It was a magnificent expression of our commonality, of our, generally, shared views and mutual respect.

Holding that blue riband event in Northern Ireland was a hugely significant, brave advance justified and enhanced by Lowry’s victory. Easy as it is to celebrate that unexpected win, Lowry was a 100-1 outsider, it is far more difficult to cheer what seems this week’s racing certainty.

This week, unless the old gods and values intervene, Boris Johnson will address Britain from Downing Street as prime minister. He will have attained the office that history rightly regards as one of the most influential in the West.

At that point, it will be too late to reflect on his flaws, his unreliable character and his mercurial principles. He will be endorsed by a majority of 160,000 or so card-carrying Tories who have metaphorically anointed themselves with woad, the Picts’ blue warpaint. They will put their marginalised, old-world party before country, near neighbours or tomorrow’s Europe. It is hard to see the silver lining in that cloud though Theresa May may. Excoriated as Britain’s weakest modern prime minister she may not have to carry that ignominious title for very long. However, Mr Johnson might, though the odds would be a lot longer than 100-1, surprise us all. Convention decrees we at least nod at optimism.

He has promised Britain that they will leave the EU on October 31 even if that means no-deal. Yet, he seems to have no idea how that might be achieved or what it might, in the hardnosed world, entail. Though he might wish it otherwise, his options remain, more or less, defined by three objectives; quit the EU, the single market and customs union; avoid any hard border, and conceding to the DUP that the North quits on the same terms as England, Scotland and Wales. Only two, at most, of these can be achieved especially as the DUP’s bought-and-paid-for support is vital to the survival of the current Tory government.

At the weekend, Tánaiste Simon Coveney administered another reality check when, speaking on the BBC, he ruled out any reopening of May’s rejected agreement. “If the approach is going to be to tear up the withdrawal agreement then I think we are in trouble — we are all in trouble,” he predicted. His certainty is based on his understanding of the EU’s determination to defend the single market in deed and principle.

Maybe if Mr Johnson and those around him understood that better, we might move to what is possible rather waste more time pretending that the Duke-of-York hollow promises — “march them up the hill, march them back down again” — of an aspiring, untested leader supported by a tiny minority of his peers have any relevance once the votes are counted.

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