ICYMI, Boris Johnson Just Weighed In On Brexit – And No-One Appreciated It

This time it's all about that sticky point which he negotiated in 2019, the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Johnson is reportedly against Sunak's plans to overhaul Northern Ireland's post-Brexit arrangements.
Johnson is reportedly against Sunak's plans to overhaul Northern Ireland's post-Brexit arrangements.
Carl Court via Getty Images

Boris Johnson weighed in on the Northern Ireland Protocol again over the weekend, urging Rishi Sunak not to drop it – but people weren’t impressed.

Johnson, who was ousted from office by his own Tory MPs in July, has regularly voiced his opinions on prime minister Sunak’s time in No.10, including talking about sending fighter jets to Ukraine and appearing at COP27 after the PM considered not going.

Now, Johnson has been criticised for weighing in on the most problematic part of the UK’s exit from the EU, which he actually negotiated back in 2019, just as Sunak is trying to overhaul it.

The NI Protocol effectively put a trade border down the Irish Sea, so checks have to be carried out on goods coming from Britain and going to Northern Ireland. This creates significant issues for those living in the region, trade delays and has upset unionists like the DUP, who now won’t sit in the devolved government.

That means Northern Ireland has not had a devolved executive for months.

The jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice over Northern Ireland is up for debate too.

If the protocol bill – which Johnson championed – gets through parliament, it will also allow the UK to unilaterally move away from the current arrangements in Northern Ireland.

So Sunak has been trying to rectify current sticking points over the protocol by holding talks with Northern Ireland’s political parties and the EU.

It was all going quite well, with all sides indicating some feelings of optimism that a resolution was on the horizon, when a source close to Johnson told the Sunday Telegraph: “His general thinking is that it would be a great mistake to drop the Northern Ireland protocol bill.”

This intervention could hint that the ex-PM wants to lead a mutiny against Sunak’s proposals, amid worries that more than 100 Tory MPs could rebel against them.

In response, a government official said: “If we can find a way to satisfactorily resolve the issues with the protocol, then you wouldn’t need the bill. But we haven’t resolved them yet.”

It’s worth noting that during the 2019 general election campaign, Johnson repeatedly said there would not be checks on goods going between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

When the protocol was actually introduced, he admitted that it had upset the “delicate balance” of the region’s political settlement – but followed through with it anyway.

So, as you can imagine, plenty of people were not impressed by Johnson’s intervention.

It didn’t escape people’s attention that Johnson himself had actually championed the bill.

LBC presenter Sangita Myska said: “Johnson, if you ask me, hasn’t stopped meddling.

“He’s flown to Ukraine – do you remember that – that was before he had even left 10 Downing Street, but had resigned as prime minister, on his goodbye world tour.”

She added: “He’s been speaking a lot, hasn’t he, cashing in on all of his chatter. A million pounds he’s bagged since leaving No.10. He’s been making speeches in the US, India and Portugal.”

Others spotted an interview from former chancellor George Osbourne who told Channel 4: “Boris Johnson is interested in becoming prime minister again.

″And as you saw with the Brexit referendum or you saw with the Chequers agreement, if you can remember that with Theresa May, if you wait for Boris Johnson to do the grown-up, sensible thing, he’s not going to do it if he thinks there a political opportunity in causing trouble.

“And he wants to bring down Rishi Sunak and he will use any instrument to do it, and if the Northern Ireland negotiations are that instrument, he will pick it up and hit Mr Sunak over the head with it.”

Johnson did stand to be leader of the Tory party after his successor Liz Truss’s short time in office was up, claiming he secured the support of 102 MPs, before unexpectedly saying he would step aside because the Conservatives were not united.

Even Penny Mordaunt, who used to be in Johnson’s government, told Sky News: ”Boris is being Boris.”

However, she was less critical of him than others, adding, “I wouldn’t say this is a completely unhelpful intervention,” as she believes the NI Protocol needs to stay in place.

On the other hand, former Northern Ireland secretary under Labour, Lord Mandelson, told Sky News: “There is nothing that Boris Johnson is doing now, or indeed throughout our recent history with the EU that could possible be described as helpful.

“He’s trying to wreck the thing because he’s opposed to the prime minister.

“He and his supporters want to undermine the prime minister, it’s just a continuation of the fratricidal war we see inside the Conservative Party, so I really hope Boris Johnson removes himself entirely from this match. We don’t need him wrecking things anymore.”

Meanwhile, others criticised what this might mean for his legacy – and whether we should still listen to him at all.


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