The controversial Boris Johnson will finally relinquish his position as the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister at the beginning of September.
The news, which came after several high-ranking members of Johnson’s cabinet resigned in the wake of the Sue Gray Report, was a shock to many political observers. The Conservative Party leader, who had survived a constant barrage of scrutiny since assuming the role of Prime Minister in July of 2019, has ultimately been ousted from within.
It has become somewhat commonplace in recent times in Ireland to turn a blind to our nearest neighbour’s political proceedings, instead favouring the constant spectacle and furore which surrounds the Trump era of politics in the United States.
The race to be the next Prime Minister is being contested by two prominent Conservative Party members, former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, and the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Liz Truss.
Whilst these names will be unfamiliar to many in Ireland, it is important to take note not only of their names, but more importantly their policies – which could have a severe impact here.
Given the current severe inflationary period being endured by the Western world, alongside the economic difficulties induced by war in Eastern Europe, the policies of our third largest European trading partner should be watched closely.
The current frontrunner is Liz Truss, which should be cause for concern for the Irish populous. Truss has opted for the populist approach in seeking the Tory leadership, claiming she will cut taxes “immediately” and create a “business revolution” in the UK.
Cutting taxes is always a carrot dangled by politicians seeking election, but to do so in times of such economic uncertainty is quite the red flag. Many economists have reacted with alarm to Truss’s promises, which they believe will only heighten inflation and thus continue to worsen the current cost-of-living crisis.
As previously stated, the UK – despite the Brexit fiasco – remains one of Ireland’s largest trading partners. Making up 10% of our total exports to the value of almost €15 billion annually, the state of the UK’s economy has a very tangible impact upon our own.
Should Truss succeed in becoming the third female Prime Minister, it is the opinion of Citigroup’s Chief UK Economist Ben Nabarro that Truss will “pose the greatest risk from an economic perspective with an unseemly combination of pro-cyclical tax cuts and institutional disruption.”
Perhaps of even greater concern to those in the Ireland is the pair’s attitude towards the infamous Northern Ireland Protocol.
In the Brexit negotiations between the UK government and the European Union, a special agreement was reached with regards to Northern Ireland. The agreement, or Northern Ireland Protocol as it was coined, sought to prevent a hard border between the North and the Republic by preventing any customs checks on goods moving across the border.
The Protocol sparked uproar in Northern political circles though, as Unionists claimed that the agreement undermined the North’s place within the United Kingdom. The result of this anger sees the inability to form a working government since Sinn Fein’s historic electoral victory in May. Unionists refuse to return to Stormont until the Protocol is suitably amended in their eyes.
Responding to this gridlock, Westminster has sought to blatantly disregard international law and renege on its agreement with the EU over Northern Ireland, a move which has been heavily supported by both Truss and Sunak.
Should either prove to be successful in passing the reworked Protocol through the House of Commons, the knock-on effects could be catastrophic for those in border communities, as a hard border would likely be reintroduced between North and South for the first time since 2005.
Not only would such a move drive a wedge between families and communities on either side of the border once more, but it would have huge financial implications for both the North and South, as any previously agreed free trade between the two states would no longer be allowed under EU law.
As much as we may not like it, it is patently evident that the UK and Ireland are still inextricably linked. Furthermore, the result of the race to become the next Prime Minister will have grave consequences regardless of who wins out in the end.
Truss may hold the shakier economic policies when compared to Sunak, but the blatant disregard held by both for the complexities of the North-South relationship in Ireland should be the most troublesome issue for Irish onlookers.
Whatever the result come the first week of September, Ireland needs to brace for impact.
By Rory Fleming – Politics Correspondent