Belfast Telegraph

Suzanne Breen: Johnson has plenty of box office appeal, but Hunt impresses as Prime Minister material

Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

Boris Johnson and Arlene Foster regally standing together on the balcony at Stormont, looking down at the city below.

The future Prime Minister and the DUP leader seemed a match made in Heaven yesterday as the Tory leadership contenders came to town.

Officially, the DUP is staying out of the contest and is neutral on both candidates, but Arlene's photo opportunity with Boris alone spoke volumes. Her pale (Tory) blue jacket perfectly co-ordinating with his tie.

After the hustings for Conservative Party members in the Culloden Hotel, BoJo headed to Parliament Buildings for an hour-long tete-a-tete with Mrs Foster. Had Jeremy Hunt shown up, he very much would have been playing gooseberry.

So why does the DUP seem to have eyes only for Boris when he betrayed the party just months ago by voting for the Withdrawal Agreement he had pledged to oppose?

Love may be blind but the DUP leadership aren't. They have the measure of the favourite for the Tory crown and likely trust him as far as they can throw him.

It's the people around Johnson, particularly former Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, whom Mrs Foster's party trust and respect.

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A hugely important member of Boris's campaign team, he is a cert to secure a key cabinet job if his man wins. Williamson was instrumental in negotiating the last confidence and supply agreement with the DUP (which ends this month) and likely will be second time around.

As a friend to the party long before its 10 votes in the House of Commons gave it influence, the DUP regard him as ultra-reliable.

Fearful of a Corbyn government, the party also believes that Johnson alone can win the next Westminster election for his party.

His box office appeal was certainly on display at Stormont yesterday. The atmosphere was electric as he toured Parliament Buildings.

A queue formed for selfies with him when Mrs Foster brought him into the dining room.

At the Culloden, it was his rival who impressed Conservative members most. Jeremy Hunt delivered a polished performance and, unlike Boris, clearly does the detail.

Of the two candidates, he was the one most people viewed as Prime Minister material - although his pledge to keep the hapless Karen Bradley as Secretary of State will win him no friends with any local parties.

Hunt and Johnson flew in mid-morning and were gone by the afternoon.

The fleeting nature of their visit is unsurprising.

With only 500 Tory members' votes up for grabs here, both men have far bigger fish to fry elsewhere in the leadership race.

It was fitting that the hustings were held in the plush Culloden Hotel on north Down's Gold Coast - a location far removed from the lives of the plain people of Northern Ireland and all their concerns.

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