Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: No lack of pressing issues here for new PM to get teeth into

New Prime Minister Boris Johnson
New Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Editor's Viewpoint

New Prime Minister Boris Johnson is no stranger to Northern Ireland, which is just as well because it is matters relating to the province which make up a substantial portion of his bulging in-tray.

Brexit, legacy issues, same-sex marriage, abortion liberalisation, avoiding a hard border or weakening the Union, restoring devolved power and keeping the DUP as allies - those are some of the imperatives facing him as he walks through the door of No.10 Downing Street today.

And all those issues have to be dealt with against a backdrop of keeping the hardline Brexiteers of his party onside. His two-to-one majority over Jeremy Hunt shows that the wider party faithful are beguiled by Boris the showman, who is far from the buffoon he likes to portray. They also expect him to deliver on Brexit.

But his hardline stance on leaving the EU - he promised the UK will throw off the shackles of Europe on October 31 come what may, even if it means a no-deal exit - leaves little room for manoeuvre given the EU is equally adamant that the withdrawal agreement, including the Irish backstop, is not for renegotiation.

The questions now are whether Boris has a Plan B, which his predecessor never managed to devise, and if so, what could it be?

These are vital questions as far as Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are concerned. Both will be affected by all but the softest of Brexit exits. A no-deal would be disastrous for both economies.

Boris will find the same competing forces ranged against him in the House of Commons as brought down Theresa May. Already, a couple of Cabinet ministers have said they will not serve under him.

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Negotiating at Westminster is as difficult as changing the minds of the EU over the backstop.

And he will find the DUP - emotionally on the same wavelength as him - will be tough negotiators on the confidence and supply agreement now due for renewal.

They will be wary of a man who pledged to get rid of the backstop and then voted in favour of it in the Commons. History shows that Tory Prime Ministers can deal the hardest blows against their fellow unionists - proroguing Stormont and signing the Anglo-Irish Agreement are two examples.

The party is also angry at how what seemed a routine piece of legislation on Northern Ireland was in effect hijacked to push through laws legalising same-sex marriage and liberalising abortion. Although there are escape caveats, it will have left the DUP even more determined to ensure that it is not sold short in any negotiations.

There is interest also in who he will appoint as Secretary of State, as the ineffectual Karen Bradley seems certain to be replaced. Several leading figures have been mooted as possible replacements, which is surprising given that the position is regarded as a minor Cabinet role.

Perhaps that indicates that there will be a greater push to restore devolution, although when the two main parties can find something to squabble about over the staging of the hugely successful Open golf tournament last weekend, it doesn't augur well for the future of current talks.

As Boris takes over the reins of power today the hope is that his bellicose attitude to the EU was just soundbites to get him elected and that the weight of office will temper his more rash comments and lead to him adopting a more thoughtful and inclusive approach on all fronts.

Belfast Telegraph

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