Northern Ireland Greens: Johnson ‘just doesn’t get it’

“Johnson's likening of the Irish border to the boundary between Camden and Islington provided a jaw-dropping illustration of the Prime Minister as someone who just doesn't get it.” Deputy Leader of the Green Party NI, Malachai O’Hara, provides a feel for the atmosphere in Northern Ireland as Prime Minister Boris Johnson marches the UK closer to a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, a departure that could have ruinous consequences for the Irish border question and the fragile peace settlement.

Border Communities Against Brexit sign
Border Communities Against Brexit sign

Eric Jones cc-by-sa/2.0

Malachai O'Hara

As one of his first official engagements since becoming Prime Minister, Boris Johnson came to Belfast last week and his first port of call was a dinner with senior members of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). The DUP has enabled the Tories to cling to power through the ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement in place since Theresa May's disastrous Westminster election of 2017.

This arrangement has had a hugely negative impact on politics here in Northern Ireland. It has placed the DUP in a prime position in Westminster, holding the balance of power and representing a view on Brexit that is in the minority in Northern Ireland.

Let's remember that the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland voted to remain in the European Union in 2016. Indeed, since then, support for EU membership has grown further along with a demand for a People’s Vote on any final Brexit deal with an option to remain on the table. 

When it comes to Brexit, along with a host of other issues such as marriage equality and abortion rights, the DUP's right-wing extremism is out of step with the majority of people in Northern Ireland.

The new Prime Minister's drive towards a ‘no-deal’ Brexit has been observed with deep concern here in Northern Ireland. The invisibility of the border across these islands is an important aspect of our peace settlement and frictionless trade between North and South is vital to our economy.

The backstop contained within Theresa May’s deal was not perfect but represented the least worst option in the face of Brexit. The backstop is backed by a cross section of local political parties as well as farming and trade unions, voluntary and community sector organisations and economic bodies.

Johnson's likening of the Irish border to the boundary between Camden and Islington provided a jaw-dropping illustration of the Prime Minister as someone who just doesn't get it. Under Johnson, we feel not so much awesome as fearful as part of the “foursome” of home nations. In this context, Republicans are campaigning for Irish unity with renewed vigour and the chances of a return to power-sharing arrangements in Stormont drift further away by the day. 

A Prime Minister cannot simply read the briefing notes on Northern Ireland to understand the region. It takes years of listening and learning with interest to get this place and our people.

The fear is that a Prime Minister more interested in holding on to power and leaving the EU at any cost has sub-contracted out his obligations to the people of Northern Ireland to the DUP  who do not represent the majority view on Brexit.

Our peace process is precious and our economy is in a precarious position. Meanwhile, attention is diverted away from dealing with climate breakdown and our public services are fracturing from years of underinvestment and a lack of strategic direction since the breakdown of devolution. 

We are assuming a ‘brace, brace’ position as Johnson hurtles us towards a ‘no-deal’ Brexit.

Malachai O’Hara is Deputy Leader of the Green Party NI.