Belfast Telegraph

Alban Maginness: 'How will Boris try to resolve the looming Halloween Brexit crisis?'

The new Prime Minister will find his options are very limited when he seeks to renegotiate a deal for leaving the EU

Newly elected leader of the Conservative party Boris Johnson leaves Tory party HQ in Westminster, London, yesterday
Newly elected leader of the Conservative party Boris Johnson leaves Tory party HQ in Westminster, London, yesterday
Alban Maginness

By Alban Maginness

As Boris Johnson storms the commanding heights of the Tory party and seizes power as the new Tory leader and Prime Minister, there is one certainty and that is there will be the mother of all political crises by - if not before - October 31, the day that the UK is designated to leave the EU.

While Boris may be happy that he has successfully climbed the greasy pole to the top job in Britain, he will find the realities of exercising power much more difficult than even Theresa May found. If anything, Boris's options to substantially change the Brexit deal are far more constrained than May had during her troubled term in office.

At the weekend Tanaiste Simon Coveney emphasised that while a no-deal Brexit may be the UK's choice, everybody would lose as a result.

Coveney is one of the few statesmen in our politics and when he speaks people should carefully listen to his wise counsel. He speaks with authority, without ideological baggage and seeks to resolve problems, not to create them.

He is quite unlike Boris Johnson, who wilfully fuels division and contention in order to pursue the chimera of an ideologically hard Brexit. A hard Brexit is the invention of a new and virulent force in contemporary British politics, English populist nationalism. This is a nationalism that would not mind Scotland, or indeed here, leaving the UK because of Brexit. It is this populist nationalism that Johnson appeals to in his politics.

It is this that fuels the Brexit movement and which poses the greatest threat to political unity within the United Kingdom.

We in Northern Ireland are the people that will lose out most if October 31 arrives and Boris opts for a no-deal Brexit, irrespective of the disastrous political and economic consequences forewarned by Coveney and many other responsible politicians, including Philip Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. So angered by Boris's irresponsible position on a no-deal Brexit, Hammond has already refused to serve in a new Johnson Cabinet.

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Compare his principled stance to that of Arlene Foster, who despite the overwhelming arguments to the contrary still blindly and irrationally supports Brexit and rejects May's deal with the EU. All this despite the convincing arguments and warnings from the leaders of local business and farming organisations. These are not people with covert political agendas, but rather businessmen and women driven by serious concerns for the future of our regional economy.

Foster continues to reject eminently reasonable arguments against Brexit, but worse still she has failed to reject the disaster of a no-deal Brexit, about which our own Civil Service has predicted will cause 40,000 job losses. Without prejudice to her own position on Brexit she should at least publicly reject that disastrous option.

But like Scotland, if there is a no-deal scenario, then there will be major political damage that will impact upon and destabilise Northern Ireland's political continuance within the United Kingdom. Her invincible ignorance on Brexit is counter-intuitive and baffling.

The EU has definitively stated its consistent position that there will be no new deal on Brexit.

There may be minor tweaking of the political declaration, but no substantive changes. For the EU the protection of the single market is paramount, that is why the Irish border is so important to them as a collective body of states bound together within the single market.

Lord Adonis, a Labour Peer and an incisive observer of politics in Britain, agrees with that and said recently in Dublin that there will be "a deep parliamentary crisis in October as Boris Johnson hits reality and then a further extension of the Article 50 negotiating period".

Indeed, the new EU president, Ursula Von der Leyen, has intriguingly said that she could live with a further extension to the Brexit departure date beyond October 31.

So while May gained extra time, Johnson may just be able to add what would amount to injury time to the extension already achieved.

Significantly, in advance of the Tory leadership election result, Parliament voted last week to stop any new Prime Minister suspending Parliament to force through a no-deal Brexit. This was achieved partly with the support of senior ministers, who pointedly abstained on the vote.

Clearly, this was a bold message for Boris from his Tory opponents not to even consider the suspension of Parliament to get a no-deal Brexit through.

They will dog Boris as tenaciously as he dogged May in her pursuit of a workable deal with Brussels. Once again Boris will be boxed in and his room for manoeuvre in the end-game with Europe will be minimal.

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