Editorial: North cannot be casualty of Tory civil war

IF, as expected, Boris Johnson’s remaining term in Downing Street will be measured in weeks or months rather than the years he once imagined, it will surely go down as one of the most ignominious of any in Britain’s long parliamentary history.

Monday night’s confidence vote, which saw more than 40 per cent of Conservative MPs say they had lost faith in the prime minister, has left him mortally wounded ahead of two by-elections which are likely to spell even greater trouble later this month.

Mr Johnson’s claim that he secured a “decisive” victory, despite securing less support than his predecessor Theresa May before her resignation in 2019, was a distortion of the truth worthy of Donald Trump.

His reported admission that he would “do it again”, when asked by MPs about attending lockdown-breaking leaving dos, also shows he has learnt nothing from the partygate scandal and considers himself above normal standards of accountability and integrity that politicians are sworn to observe.

Like Trump, his narcissistic instincts will not allow him to admit defeat or fault and in the short-term, it means we can expect all kinds of distractions and policy red meat as he desperately bids to secure his position.

This is expected to include the imminent publication of legislation allowing the government to override parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol that helped bring Johnson to power.

Such a move would breach international law and has the potential to trigger a ruinous trade war with the EU.

But with Brussels likely to consider it an empty threat given that Mr Johnson’s days as Conservative leader are numbered, unilateral action would serve only to further sour relations with European partners and delay a negotiated solution to practical problems with the protocol.

Businesses and public services in Northern Ireland, meanwhile, will face added uncertainty at a time when they desperately need stable government at Stormont to deal with a range of urgent issues, including the cost of living crisis.

Irish foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney warned yesterday that divisions in the Conservative Party should not dictate the UK approach to the protocol. Taoiseach Micheál Martin also appealed to the British government to “think of the people of Northern Ireland”.

Sadly, such considerations are unlikely to feature in Boris Johnson’s calculations as he seeks to delay his inevitable departure date.