Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Political end game remains uncertain

Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson (Yui Moka/PA)
Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson (Yui Moka/PA)

Editor's Viewpoint

As the hustings continue in the battle for the keys to 10 Downing Street, the two contenders, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, came to Northern Ireland but their messages could have been delivered anywhere. As ever they were high on aspiration but scant in detail.

Both agreed that they would leave the EU without a deal if that was the only option and both were keen to rule out the imposition of a hard border. There was talk of renegotiating the backstop but as the leadership of the EU changes following the recent European election, the message from Brussels is that the deal already agreed cannot be altered.

The two contenders were both keen to be seen to woo the DUP on that party's home ground. Mr Hunt said he would put them on his Brexit negotiating team if he became Prime Minister, though many have wondered why the party did not insist on such a position in Theresa May's Government.

He raised a few eyebrows by revealing he had never met a Sinn Fein politician, which hardly assures the majority of people in Northern Ireland who had voted to remain in the EU that any future deal will take some cognisance of their position. Mr Johnson played his strong pro-Union card, although there is always the niggling doubt as shown during the final weeks of Mrs May's Government that he can move position without warning.

What is clear is that the DUP remains in a pivotal position, whoever is the next Prime Minister and has a strong hand in renegotiating their confidence and supply deal. The party can remind the winner of the contest of his pledges made during the hustings, and members have shown in the past that they will not surrender their red lines on Brexit such as a border down the Irish Sea or any weakening of the Union.

Yet the party has to remember that its home constituency voted to remain in the EU and voters here will be watching carefully to see what sort of Brexit the party will back. If it is one which proves unfavourable to Northern Ireland economically, there could be unwelcome consequences for the party.

All this political drama is fascinating to watch and plays out like the script of a TV mini-series, but with one very major difference. Ultimately this is about all our futures and those of our children, and even at this 11th hour, the end game is still totally uncertain.

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