FIANNA FÁIL leader Micheál Martin has accused new UK prime minister Boris Johnson of not having the “slightest level of understanding” of Anglo-Irish relations.
However, he said Ireland still needs to work with the new British leader in order to protect the peace process.
Speaking in Donegal just hours after Mr Johnson won a landslide victory over Jeremy Hunt in the Tory leadership race, Mr Martin didn’t hold back in his assessment of the new UK prime minister.
“The accession of Boris Johnson to Downing Street quite rightly raises enormous fears for the future of relations between the governments and also London’s policy towards Northern Ireland,” he said.
“Anyone in Dublin who met him during his time as foreign secretary will tell you the many ways in which he failed to show the slightest level of understanding about the operations of the Good Friday Agreement or the deep problems raised by Brexit.”
He said that Mr Johnson’s goals for Brexit are unclear too.
“It is clear that he is single-minded in his ambition, but I don’t think anyone can credibly say that he has thought through how to promote prosperity and reconciliation in Northern Ireland.
“And, to be honest, no one really seems to know what his beliefs are in relation to Brexit other than wanting to raise the flag of victory at Halloween.
“Three months ago, he voted for the withdrawal agreement. Now he says it must be buried forever. He is apparently about to install a staff which is on the fundamentalist wing of the issue, and full of people who have been, at best, indifferent to the impact of Brexit on this island.”
Mr Martin said Taoiseach Leo Varadkar needed to engage with Mr Johnson and resist getting into “one-upmanship”.
“In spite of all of this, and the trepidation rightly felt by people who want to protect the achievements of the peace settlement, we must find a way to work with Boris Johnson,” he said. “Over the next few weeks, the Taoiseach and prime minister will meet to discuss Brexit. Both leaders should be reminded that this is not just a game of one-upmanship — that Brexit is far too serious to play domestic politics with.
“It would be a good start if there was an end to the new habit of carrying out every disagreement in public and for both the Taoiseach and the new prime minister to do more than focus on the fight at hand.”
Mr Varadkar noted Mr Johnson’s election on Twitter yesterday afternoon, saying he looked forward to an early engagement on Brexit.
Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney sent a similar tweet, saying: “Congratulations to @BorisJohnson on becoming leader of the UK Conservative Party — we will work constructively with him and his Govt to maintain and strengthen British/Irish relations through the challenges of #Brexit.”