Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Little optimism after Boris Johnson's visit to NI

Boris Johnson has spoken to Leo Varadkar (Jacob King/PA)
Boris Johnson has spoken to Leo Varadkar (Jacob King/PA)

Editor's Viewpoint

He came, he saw and he left. On his first visit to Northern Ireland as Prime Minister, Boris Johnson made little impression on any of the political parties apart from the DUP.

Indeed, his dinner with senior DUP politicians on Tuesday night had set the wrong tone with the other parties who saw it as merely confirming that his view of Northern Ireland is seen purely through the prism of his unionist partners in government.

There is some validity in Arlene Foster's comments that it was quite natural for him to have dinner with her and other party members since they were about to discuss a renewal of the confidence-and-supply agreement, but all sides know that perception matters as much as logic.

According to members of the other political parties which met him yesterday, exchanges with the Prime Minister revealed little. They were certainly not going to change his attitude to Brexit no more than he was able convince them that he would be totally impartial in the governance of Northern Ireland.

His meeting with Sinn Fein seemed to have been frosty - particularly from the republican side - and that does not augur well for political development here. But all this political theatre was totally expected.

He has set out his stall on Brexit so comprehensively - although without revealing any plan to avoid a no-deal - that there was never going to be a meeting of minds with most of the other parties that are against leaving the EU.

What he didn't mention was also important. There was no reference to the dissident threat which could grow with a hard Brexit nor did he seem to take on board the expert opinion which says a no-deal would be disastrous for the province's economy. He seemed to be here because he had to come rather than because he was fully engaged with our problems.

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He urged the parties to redouble their efforts to restore devolved government, but the divide between Sinn Fein and the DUP cannot be bridged by coaxing, yet there are no signs of any other plan to give the current talks impetus.

Overall the Prime Minister's visit had all the appearance of groundhog day. The only thing changing is the date and we are now another day closer to October 31. Boris is someone who doesn't seem to feel the need to explain himself in any detail. No one doubts his commitment to leaving the EU, but many fear the consequences.

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