The prime minister’s bluster is meeting head-on with the complex reality of Northern Irish politics
Apologies make cynical history, but Boris Johnson has a big one to make, and fast. He must apologise to Northern Ireland’s unionists that he did not mean it last year when he pledged “no border” down the Irish Sea. As the Good Friday agreement negotiator, Jonathan Powell, wrote on Sunday, this was a lie. Johnson had just told the Irish government that the Good Friday deal held and there would be no border on the island of Ireland. Given Britain’s intention to leave the EU’s customs union, the two statements were incompatible, and Johnson knew it. Every truck on the Belfast ferry knows it, too.
The current Belfast riots have invoked the usual platitudes. The Irish taoiseach, Micheál Martin, has called for calm. Joe Biden has offered concern. Everyone is outraged that children are being encouraged to attack the police. Even Prince Philip’s death has been cited as a call for restraint. Deprivation, local political grievances, poor relationships with the police – these are all factors behind the disturbances. But every act of violence also carries the same word: exasperation. Will someone answer the question? Johnson lied, and what is Britain going to do about it?