Boris Johnson: Northern Ireland parties react to appointment of new PM

Candidate Jeremy Hunt (left) congratulates Boris Johnson after the result of the Conservative Party leadership election was announced in London
Candidate Jeremy Hunt (left) congratulates Boris Johnson after the result of the Conservative Party leadership election was announced in London
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Boris Johnson’s appointment as prime minister has drawn a polarised reaction among local politicians with some congratulating the new incumbent while others expressed concerns about his attitude to Northern Ireland.

DUP leader Arlene Foster tweeted her congratulations to Mr Johnson, commenting: “Look forward to discussing our shared objectives of strengthening the Union, delivering Brexit & restoring devolution.”

In a fuller statement issued later in the day she said: “I have spoken with Boris Johnson and congratulated him on becoming leader of the Conservative Party.

“We discussed our shared objectives of strengthening every part of the Union, ensuring the 2016 referendum result is implemented and seeing devolution restored in Northern Ireland.

“The confidence & supply agreement between the Conservative Party and the Democratic Unionist Party remains. That agreement included a review between each Parliamentary session.

“This will take place over the coming weeks and will explore the policy priorities of both parties for the next Parliamentary session.

“I also look forward to welcoming Mr Johnson back to Northern Ireland shortly after he becomes prime minister.”

Ulster Unionist Party leader Robin Swann congratulated Mr Johnson on his appointment as prime minister, adding: “There is now immense expectation as to the next steps the new prime minister will take and one of those must be the restoration of a functioning Northern Ireland Assembly.

“The Ulster Unionist Party is willing and able to work with Mr Johnson to ensure this happens but if that is unattainable in the short term, then he must move to ensure further critical decisions are taken by Westminster.”

He added that the new PM must do “everything possible” to avoid a no-deal Brexit.

“I urge him not to allow nationalism in Northern Ireland or Scotland to exploit the current instability for selfish political interests,” he said.

The North Antrim MLA also paid tribute to outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May for her service to the United Kingdom, commenting: “One thing that was never in doubt during her tenure was her belief in the Union.”

Ulster Unionist peer Lord Empey said Mr Johnson faces “many onerous tasks and huge political decisions” in the months ahead.

He added: “I strongly encourage him to continue to seek alternatives to the backstop which threatens Northern Ireland’s position within the United Kingdom.

“We have suggested alternatives and I hope he can take them on board as a part of a potential solution to the political bind which the EU and UK currently find themselves in.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood described Mr Johnson’s appointment as a “worrying step toward a hard no-deal Brexit and a hard border in Ireland”.

“Johnson has coasted into Downing street on a wave of Brexit bluff and bluster,” Mr Eastwood said.

“It won’t be long until he crashes into the rocky reality that the European Union will not sacrifice the interests of Ireland to appease a man who has lied and slandered its institutions in an effort to secure power.

“All parties in the north must now set our combined efforts to resisting the impulse of this administration to drive off the Brexit cliff edge.

“The fragile complexities of political and economic relationships across this island cannot be placed on the altar of British nativism.

“Our struggle for peace and economic normalisation has been too long and too hard to be sacrificed for this.”

Alliance leader Naomi Long said the UK needs a “statesman, not a showman”.

She said: “At such a critical juncture, we need someone who is detail focused and sensitive to the complexity of the challenges ahead.

“Boris Johnson’s road to the Conservative Party leadership has been paved with destructive half-truths, bluster and outright lies, many of which helped precipitate the crisis from which he is now personally benefiting. With an impending no-deal Brexit and the stark choices facing us, we need substantive answers from him to what are incredibly serious and complex questions.”

She also accused Mr Johnson of failing to demonstrate “any real understanding” of the needs of Northern Ireland, particularly in the context of Brexit and especially in a no-deal scenario.

“The Irish border is a delicate and nuanced issue, with resonance far beyond trading arrangements and with the potential to unpick the fabric of the Good Friday Agreement if mishandled,” she said.

“It is also impacting on the ability of parties to restore the political institutions here. He now needs to demonstrate his ability to act with sensitivity and impartiality in his engagements with local parties.

“It’s time to cut the bluff, bluster and bombastic rhetoric, and start to provide the kind of reassurance business and civic society needs. Whilst I remain sceptical he will do that, I wish him well and will be more than happy to be proved wrong.”

Green Party NI leader Clare Bailey said: “Boris Johnson may have been selected as the next prime minister by the Tory Party but has no mandate from the people.

“This new prime minister is intent on a hard Brexit.

“The man who compared a border on the island of Ireland to the boundary between Islington and Camden cares littles about our economic, social and political future.

“Drill down into Boris Johnson’s voting record and rhetoric on environmental issues, women’s rights and social mobility and we see a climate change-denying, racist, misogynist.”

She added: “The reality is that Boris Johnson has no chance of commanding a majority in a Brexit-ravaged Westminster.”